Declining bee populations could lead to increased food insecurity and economic losses in the billions.
From bee to farm to table<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyOTUzOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NzM3MDkwNH0.coXBXgDBoRvXaZYIgKaH9fH_jhlUKp3O22-h2rY8jMQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="a317b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bd61c660c9d52353ba975145fab59625" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A bar graph showing the percentage of pollination limitation for the seven crops studied.
Ecological and edible incentives<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyOTUzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTM4NzQwMX0.vclSktT0d_Mvns_QTZ7ZkFT_pWgIIpyb6ZNP1Tla2Qs/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C215%2C0%2C216&height=700" id="93d5d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1e5b70e616daf5fcc0a63a041675e7a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="hand holding dead bees" />
A protester shows a handful of bees that died by pesticides. The protest was held during the Bayer AG shareholder meeting in 2019.
(PhooMaja Hitiji/Getty Images)<p>The concern extends beyond these seven. Crops such as coffee, avocados, lemons, limes, and oranges are also highly dependent on pollinators and may prove pollination limited. If declining bee populations are tied to such yields, it could mean barer supermarket shelves and increased prices. While that may only be an annoyance to some, to poor and vulnerable communities who already struggle to secure <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2011/december/data-feature-mapping-food-deserts-in-the-us/" target="_blank">salubrious, affordable food</a>, such a deficit would present another barrier to the vital micronutrients necessary for a healthy life and diet.</p><p>Unfortunately, <a href="http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/54228/1/Science_1255957_Goulson_RV_revised_CA_edited.pdf" target="_blank">the threats to bees are numerous</a>. Parasites, agrochemicals, monoculture farming, and habitat degradation all play a role, and neither stressor works in isolation. Sublethal exposure to neonicotinoids, an insecticide, can cause <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/baby-bees-and-pesticides" target="_self">impairments in bees</a>, while monoculture farming serves up a monotonous and unhealthy floral buffet. Both impede bees' immune systems, rendering them vulnerable to parasites such as <a href="http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/bees/varroa_mite.htm" target="_blank"><em>Varroa destructor</em></a>, a mite that can transmit debilitating viruses as it feeds on bees' fat bodies. And all of these stressors will likely be inflamed by climate change in the years to come. </p><p>Some have proffered mechanical solutions, such as Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology where technicians are developing <a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/2120832-robotic-bee-could-help-pollinate-crops-as-real-bees-decline/" target="_blank">robotic bees</a>. These micro-drones are covered in gelled horsehair and have successfully cross-pollinated Japanese lilies. Other experiments include <a href="https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/orchards_nuts_vines/pollen-spray-could-replace-honeybees/article_f9a1c102-d5b3-519d-9dab-b0c44cfb99c5.html" target="_blank">pollen sprays</a>. However, the large-scale viability of tech-centric solutions seems questionable. After all, wild bees currently perform their ecological services pro bono and are as effective as managed honeybees. Any technological solution implemented in their absence would add to the agricultural costs and likely increase prices anyway.</p><p>Ecological amelioration will be necessary. To combat habitat fragmentation and strengthen biodiversity, many cities are implementing green-way strategies. For example, the Dutch city of Utrecht has decked its bus stop roofs with plants and grasses to <a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/urban-bees?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1" target="_self">create bee and butterfly shelters</a>, while other cities are looking to foster <a href="https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2020/0731/Can-roadsides-offer-a-beeline-for-pollinators" target="_blank">bee-friend roadsides</a>. And <a href="https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/2015/CRPProgramsandInitiatives/Honey_Bee_Habitat_Initiative.pdf" target="_blank">government initiatives</a> incentivize farmers and landowners to adopt bee-friendly management practices. These solutions aren't only a matter of ecological conservation but also food security and public health.</p>
Each pile of dung contains a cornucopia of seeds, perfect for reforesting.
- Tapirs produce towering piles of feces full of large-tree seeds other animal can't pass.
- Stashing tasty fecal morsels for later, dung beetles bury the seeds.
- Tapirs prefer burned-out areas, making them ideal re-foresters.
The Amazon rainforest has been in trouble for some time. In the last 40 years, more than 18% of Brazil's rainforest, for example, has been decimated by logging, farming, mining, and cattle ranching. That's an area about the size of California. If it isn't deliberate deforestation for commercial purposes, it's fires. Last years's unprecedented rainforest conflagrations, 85% more severe than the previous year's, were absolutely devastating, burning away some 10.123 square kilometers of forest. This year looks worse — in the first four months of 2020 alone, 1,202 square kilometers have been incinerated.
Often poking their way though the charred remains are trunk-nosed lowland tapirs (Tapirus terrestris), and that's a great thing. "Tapirs in Brazil are known as the gardeners of the forests," says ecologist Lucas Paolucci of Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brazil. They're prodigious defecators whose feces is packed with a remarkable assortment of seeds from the plants they ingest. Paolucci has great hopes for the role that tapirs, along with dung beetles, their partners in grime, can play in reforesting the Amazon. It's something they're already doing on their own.
Tapir poop in a zoo
Image source: Kulmalukko/Wikimedia
The tapir is South America's largest native mammal, looking a bit like a pig with a trunk. It's actually more closely related to a horse or rhinoceros, and is believed to have been around for tens of millions of years.
Paolucci found tapir's massive mounds of dung — "bigger than my head" — hard to miss. Inside each pile is a treasure trove of seeds including those from large, carbon-storing trees that are just too big to pass through the digestive tracts of smaller mammals. This makes them invaluable disseminators of exactly the sort of trees needed to rebuild a forest.
Tapirs seem to prefer the burned-out areas in which they're most needed, too. In 2016, Paolucci joined other researchers in studying the type of areas tapirs like to frequent. In eastern Mato Grasso, they tracked the goings-on in three plots of forest land. Two of these plots had been subjected to controlled burns from 2004 to 2010. One of then was burned every year, while the other was torched every three. The third plot was left unburned as a control.
Patrolling the plots, the researchers recorded the locations of 163 tapir-dung piles, confirming their source with camera-trap recordings of the perpetrators. The tapirs, it turned out, spend much more time in the burned out forest plots than the untouched one. Paolluccis suggests they may prefer the warm sunshine in areas not covered by forest canopy.
When the researchers extracted and counted up the seeds in those piles, an impressive array was cataloged: 129,204 seeds representing 24 plant species. Biodiversity writ in poo.
Image source: Jasper_Lensselink_Photography/Shutterstock
Seeing the tapirs' deposits leading to widespread new growth meant that something, or someone, else, had been spreading them out for planting: Dung beetles, of the superfamily Scarabaeoidea. Paolucci conducted an experiment that confirmed that dung beetles break off piles of tapir dung, roll them away, and bury them for later munching. The seeds in their snacks are in effect planted where they can grow.
Early last year, Paolucci retrieved 20 kilograms of tapir poop from the Amazon, breaking it apart into 700-gram clumps. He returned these clumps to the Amazon after stuffing each one with plastic pellets to serve as as dummy seeds. After 24 hours, Paolucci collected the clumps and counted the pellets gone missing, a simple way to calculate the number of new plants the dung beetles had planted that day. He hopes to publish the details of his study next year.
While tapirs and their dung-beetle buddies clearly can help reforest the Amazon, they, like everything else trying to live in the rainforest region, are themselves endangered by the raging forest fires. If they're lost, going with them will be a fantastic means of spreading large-tree seeds through the region.
TreeTalk finds rare arboreal treasures among London's common foliage.
- The world's largest urban forest, London counts nearly as many trees as it does people.
- TreeTalk identifies about 700,000 of them, both common species and rarities.
- Explore them yourself, or have the algorithm pick out a route from a starting point of your choice.
World's largest urban forest<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2OTMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjQ5NTY1Nn0.Te-0FIagy1TkHRULguhFO51Jm_zmMQJghvq3B4ekXKg/img.jpg?width=980" id="56cd2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="29cf0f96e3642b03e5e454605feca778" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bView of London from Sawyer's Hill in Richmond Park." />
View of London from Sawyer's Hill in Richmond Park.
Image: Maxwell Hamilton, CC BY 2.0<p>Did you know that London <a href="https://thestreettree.com/london-is-a-forest/" target="_blank">qualifies as a forest</a>? The UN's <a href="http://www.fao.org/home/en/" target="_blank">Food and Agriculture Organization</a> defines a forest as a contiguous area with at least 10 percent tree canopy cover. Greater London's trees manage more than double that (21 percent). </p><p><span></span>But then there are no less than 8.4 million of the leafy bastards standing around London's 600 square miles – that's almost one for every Londoner. So, it's not entirely surprising that London is, according to the UK's own <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/forestry-commission" target="_blank">Forestry Commission</a>, 'the world's <a href="https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/did-you-know-that-london-is-the-worlds-largest-urban-forest" target="_blank">largest urban forest</a>.'</p><p>Similar to its human inhabitants, London's trees are a cosmopolitan bunch with origins all over the world. No British city has a wider diversity of tree species. You can now explore that diversity in all its glory thanks to <a href="https://www.treetalk.co.uk/" target="_blank">TreeTalk</a>, a web page which identifies 700,000 individual trees throughout Greater London and generates tree walks from the starting point of your choice. </p><p>If you're currently confined to Britain's metropolis, the web page – also available as a smartphone app (<a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.treetalk&pcampaignid=MKT-Other-global-all-co-prtnr-py-PartBadge-Mar2515-1" target="_blank">Android only</a> for now) – is an interesting way to spice up your daily exercise walks and learn a bit about your immediate surroundings. And if you're a London junkie pandemically deprived of a visit, TreeTalk offers a novel way to virtually stroll through your favorite city.<br></p>
Gold-category rarities<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2OTMxNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTQ1MzM3NH0.MaG_6LPFVN6Cu9kMRUCCKsTxXyGozXPOb5Kos8f_vJ0/img.png?width=980" id="b562f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0227f2bae8fd571c2524216b81e5e1d3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A rather rarer import from Wuhan: the Chinese photinia." />
A rather rarer import from Wuhan: the Chinese photinia.
Image: TreeTalk<p>Zoom in and click on any tree; or type in an address or postal code to auto-generate a walking tour of the area. You'll find species that are common as muck, and with just a little bit of luck you'll come across trees in three categories of rarity: bronze (less than 400 specimens throughout the city), silver (75 or less), and gold (10 or less).</p><p>For example, go to Westbourne Gardens, in West London's Paddington area: there you'll find the only four specimens of the <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=chinese+photinia&sxsrf=ALeKk01AtvNc1qX5kcl-WRIHhlJTwdiXAA:1589111198485&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiq5PnDnKnpAhXnzoUKHfbZBI8Q_AUoAXoECDcQAw&biw=1352&bih=654" target="_blank">Chinese photinia</a> that TreeTalk has identified so far in all of London. Widely used as a greening plant in Chinese cities, the tree is omnipresent along all major avenues in Wuhan – yes, that Wuhan. </p><p>Yet Wuhanites are less than keen on the semen-like smell its flowers spread each spring, and some have called for the trees to be replaced. No such complaints seem to have been registered yet by the photinias' Paddingtonian neighbors. <br></p>
Older than the dinosaurs<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2OTMxNy9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODc2NDQ0OX0.7ViKiTcER7R-5rYeQ0IIHozqCet2bHAoxo11Ej35wgc/img.png?width=980" id="1cb83" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc183cfffcb8a3b607e5272734276d6c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bA tree walk starting and finishing at Cavendish Square, a leafy refuge just off Oxford Circus." />
A tree walk starting and finishing at Cavendish Square, a leafy refuge just off Oxford Circus.
Image: TreeTalk<p>Another example: set your sights on lovely <a href="https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2019/09/30/a-shopping-centre-under-cavendish-square/" target="_blank">Cavendish Square</a>, a small park just off busy Oxford Circus popular with office workers on their lunch break. The square is dominated by London planes (#20 on the map), one of the more common street trees in Central London. </p><p>TreeTalk's auto-generated route around the area leads past common trees like the ash (#1), the chanticleer pear (#3) and the fastigiate Norwegian maple (#6), but also along such rarities as the monkey puzzle tree (#9; only 32 found so far in London), the hackberry (#17; and only 17 in London) and the <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=variegated+wedding+cake+tree&sxsrf=ALeKk03ZJSBOGS2LLDrz8qbOKx8K7xvOaA:1589111407258&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiDkMCnnanpAhWS4YUKHR17Co4Q_AUoAXoECDoQAw&biw=1352&bih=654" target="_blank">variegated wedding cake tree</a> (#11; only 15 in London).</p><p>Less rare but still remarkable are a ginkgo (#4), a species older than the dinosaurs; one of less than 200 olive trees in London (#12); and the tree of heaven (#16), also known as the 'ghetto palm', because it thrives on wasteland.<br></p>
From A to B<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2OTMxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNjc0NjcwNH0.nTM1Y5SmMIw8yvEAd9EcViEDwEgGBZLB3ytt_yWvzGo/img.png?width=980" id="7afb9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e81c9400406b5cdb4318f99a5ad05859" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A walk south of the river, past some of London's rare and common tree species." />
A walk south of the river, past some of London's rare and common tree species.
Image: TreeTalk<p>Yet another option: pick an A and a B, and see which trees connect your walk between both points. Like this amble from London Bridge to Parliament Square, along omnipresent species (and their variants) like ash (#1), lime (#2, #5), maple (#4, #7, #13), birch (#14), and cherry (#16, #17), and rarer ones like the box elder (#3), the Japanese privet (#9), and the <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=portuguese+laurel&sxsrf=ALeKk03LQG2MQ1relSy_Y8siZ-zgsJ5_bQ:1589111576325&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjfpI_4nanpAhXKRBUIHatrDdEQ_AUoAXoECEEQAw&biw=1352&bih=654" target="_blank">Portuguese laurel</a> (#11) – only two of which have been identified in London. <br></p><p>#20 on this walk is, again, a London plane. Ubiquitous in the center, this tree is considered 'native' to the city, but its past is a bit more complicated than that. The species was discovered in the 17th century in a nursery garden in Vauxhall, on the south bank of the Thames. </p>
Plane-splaining<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2OTMxOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzA3MDQwNn0.EGrx1GDPjfv5Iluv4aZmQEpvBHPatHE-vUv_EOuH3zw/img.jpg?width=980" id="12cce" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cf099021964689c2f3452f5fdd2b9345" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bLondon planes in Berkeley Square." />
London planes in Berkeley Square.
Image: Justinc, CC BY-SA 2.0<p>'Discovered' is the right word, as it was unknown before. The London plane may be a hybrid between an Oriental plane, brought to Britain in the 16th century, and an American sycamore, imported in the early 17th century. One of each was indeed present in that Vauxhall nursery. </p><p>As it turned out, the 'new' species was well suited to its urban environment: it's not too picky with regard to soil, it requires little root space, and its flaky bark easily sheds pollutants. It flourishes despite pollarding and can grow up to 30 meters tall. <br></p><p>Because of those qualities, the London plane was chosen for mass plantings across the city, to provide much-needed greenery during its rapid expansion in the 19th century. But the London plane is not just hardy, it's also quite ornamental. The 30-odd specimens planted in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkeley_Square" target="_blank">Berkeley Square</a> in 1789 are among the oldest and grandest in London. </p>
Why 'leafy' means 'affluent'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2OTMyMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTEzNTMyOH0.UAZvek87OglEUsW0yeQJkrIcr68dVj6aJI9WHKdZEOY/img.png?width=980" id="fdd30" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2cab15f4ff2818e71df3740626d241ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Trees are useful, valuable and pleasant assets for any city." />
Trees are useful, valuable and pleasant assets for any city.
Image: TreeTalk<p>Trees are an important asset to any city, and not just for their grandeur. They provide shade and prevent flooding, store carbon, and help cool nearby buildings. A recent <a href="https://www.treeconomics.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/London-i-Tree-Report.pdf" target="_blank">iTree study</a> figures that London's trees suck out 2,261 tons of pollution from the air each year and that their total environmental benefit amounts to about £132.7 ($164.6) million per year. </p><p>But grandeur also counts for something. Literally, in fact: It's been shown that tree-lined streets boost house prices by as much as 15 percent. No wonder 'leafy' is code for 'affluent'. </p><p>Despite its iconic status, the London plane is not the city's most prevalent species. In Inner London, it's birch (12 percent), followed by lime (6 percent) and apple (6 percent) trees. Sycamore (8 percent), English oak (8 percent) and hawthorn (7 percent) are the most common in Outer London.</p><p>The iTree study recorded 126 species, not counting the 2,000 species and varieties found at Kew Gardens. <br></p>
Thomas Hardy's handiwork<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2OTMyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MDY0ODU2Nn0.Oh-_EYqokQSEWKUmINB5v2hKL_k04c5IDrdR1vVVJZk/img.jpg?width=980" id="0dfad" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ab59ff90d0b392d7033522b74b33c43a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bThe Hardy Tree: 'designed' by Thomas Hardy, before he turned his hand at writing." />
The Hardy Tree: 'designed' by Thomas Hardy, before he turned his hand at writing.
Image: cisko66, CC BY 3.0<p>For its part, TreeTalk describes more than 600 species, but it is far from complete. It provides information on just 700,000 specimens – not even 10 percent of Greater London's overall total. That's because some of London's 33 boroughs have not yet or not completely provided data on the trees in their area. </p><p>For another take on London's arboreal heritage, check out the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Trees_of_London" target="_blank">Great Trees of London</a>, a collection of 54 of the city's most remarkable trees, as chosen by the Londoners themselves. </p><p>This list was born in the aftermath of the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjNE5hTXL3k" target="_blank">Great Storm of 1987</a>, which felled around 15 million trees across the country. The Countryside Commission selected 41 much-loved survivors suggested by the public, a list that was later expanded to 61 – sadly, six trees have since been lost. </p><p>They include such venerable ancients as the Royal Oak of Richmond Park, which is around 750 years old; the Hardy Tree at St Pancras Old Church, surrounded by a macabre arrangement of decommissioned gravestones; one of the London planes in Berkeley Square; and the Totteridge Yew, which may be more than 2,000 years old – older than London itself. <br></p><p><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1028</strong></p><p><em>Check out TreeTalk here.</em></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a><em>.</em></p>
Carbon nanotubes embedded in leaves detect chemical signals that are produced when a plant is damaged.
Check out the curriculum for the nation's first cannabis-focused bachelor's program.
- Colorado State University-Pueblo will offer the first undergraduate weed degree in the U.S.
- The program will include intensive coursework focused on chemistry and advanced biology.
- Cannabis has become one of the fastest-growing job markets.