Sunday, July 12

Mosquitoes and the Birds and the Bees and the Frankensteins

Four years. That's how long the human race survives after bees become extinct.  That's my answer to Frankensteins who want to kill off all mosquito species in the name of protecting humans from mosquito-borne diseases.  From the article at Test Tube I linked to, although bees do the heavy lifting, mosquitoes along with butterflies and certain species of small birds are also pollinators. 

Right now the human race needs all the pollinators it can get.  

In addition:
In the Arctic, mosquito swarms get so thick, they darken the sky; some researchers say this plays an essential role in directing migrating birds north. They also serve as food for bats, birds, fish, and a number of other animals (including other mosquitoes). According to a study conducted by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the population of some tundra birds could drop by as much as 50 percent if mosquitoes were to disappear.
We also need all the fish and birds we can get. But I wouldn't worry too much about any birds that depend on mosquito swarms for migratory direction. That's because human activities are destroying bird migratory routes at such a clip that migrations are disappearing in many parts of the world.

The Effects of Light and Noise Pollution on Birds

Light pollution alone -- building lights directed at the sky in cities along migratory routes -- are killing off  between 500 million and one billion migratory birds annually in the United States.  The lights wash out the stars, by which birds navigate at night, causing something termed "fatal light attraction."  The bird flocks crash into the buildings.

Noise pollution is also decimating migratory bird populations.  From a May 18 report by Christopher Solomon for The New York Times, When Birds Squawk, Other Species Seem to Listen  (H/T John Batchelor Show), birds have developed an incredibly sophisticated 'early warning system' to describe a threat but this depends on their ability to hear clearly: 
Manufactured noise coming from everything from natural-gas development to automobiles is increasingly considered a major pollutant. Eighty-three percent of the land area in the continental United States, for instance, now sits within two-thirds of a mile of a road, according to a 2003 study.
To test noise’s effects, Dr. Barber of Boise State and several colleagues built a “phantom road” in a forest outside Boise, Idaho, that is a popular stopover for birds during fall migration. The road consisted of a half-kilometer array of speakers through the woods that broadcast automobile noise and could be switched on and off.
Noise alone, they found, had harmful effects on many of the birds.
“What we found was that they had lower overall body condition and they gained significantly less weight when the road was ‘on,’ ” Dr. Barber said. The findings are under review for publication.
Birds must make a trade-off with their time between eating and being vigilant. Alarm calls help the group share that responsibility. But when birds cannot hear predators or alarms well, each must spend more time listening and less time feeding, or else move to where they feel safer, Dr. Barber said.
His related 2013 study also found more than a one-quarter decline in bird abundance when the artificial road noise was turned on; some avoided the area almost entirely.
Most migratory birds worldwide are in decline today, Dr. Barber said, and noise that hampers their ability to hear information such as warnings and forces them to change their behavior may be one factor.
Noise is relevant to his nonmigrating chickadees in cold northern Montana, too, Dr. [Erick] Greene said.
“Generally in the winter, these birds are living on the edge,” he added.
“If they don’t meet their caloric requirements today, they’re dead. And it’s a trade-off: you can feed or you can watch for predators.”
In a followup study by Barber and other researchers published in November 2103 (reported by Science Daily; Negative effects of road noises on migratory birds):
In a first-of-its-kind study by Boise State University researchers shows that the negative effects of roads on wildlife are largely because of traffic noise.
Biologists have known that bird populations decline near roads. But pinpointing noise as a cause has been a problem because past studies of the effects of road noise on wildlife were conducted in the presence of the other confounding effects of roads. These include visual disturbances, collisions and chemical pollution, among others.
"We present the first study to experimentally apply traffic noise to a roadless area at a landscape scale, thus avoiding the other confounding aspects of roads present in past studies," said Christopher J. W. McClure, post-doctoral research associate in the Department of Biological Sciences. [...]
Overfishing Gone Berserk

Then there is the impact of overfishing on migratory birds, examined by Princeton professor David Wilcove in his 2010 book No Way Home: The Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations  

A 2010 NPR article by Robert Krulwich, Migration Blues: When Birds Don't Fly South, discussed the findings Wicove reported on.

In one sentence, during a key pit stop for certain migrating birds, the food they depend on to continue their journey, eggs laid by the horseshoe crab, was being wiped out by overfishing the crabs. The kicker is that the orgy of crab fishing (see the NPR article for the mind-boggling numbers) was to use the crabs as bait, not food for humans.

After a period of additional studies, the government sprang into executive action:
[State and federal agencies] reduced the allowable harvest of horseshoe crabs, and they prohibited any harvest at all during the period when the shorebirds are visiting. As a consequence, the overall harvest of horseshoe crabs dropped by 62 percent between 1998 and 2003. The states of New Jersey and Delaware went even further: in 2006, they declared a two year moratorium on the harvest of all horseshoe crabs."
I wrote Wilcove to find out what happened. The horseshoe crab population has stopped crashing. It's even bounced back a little. As for the birds, he writes, "The tally of knots [birds] in Delaware Bay was 15,000 in the spring of 2008, jumping to 24,000 in 2009." 
 That's huge. Too huge, Wilcove thinks. The 2010 tally isn't in, "but preliminary reports placed it at around 15,000 knots." So whatever is going on, the knots aren't disappearing as fast as they used to. [...]
I don't know how the situation has progressed since then but the point, which Krulwich stresses, is that with effort it's possible to slow and even reverse the human-caused decline in bird migrations -- although those migrations aren't the only ones in trouble:
"Simply stated," says ... David Wilcove, "the phenomenon of migration is disappearing around the world. The great salmon runs of the Pacific Northwest have been reduced to a trickle ... Monarch butterflies are threatened by illegal logging of the Mexican forests where they winter. "
More and more studies show fewer creatures are migrating and those who do more often don't make it. There is no easy way to address this problem.
Tackling Light Pollution

The Atlantic Flyway route in the USA (pictured in purple) runs predominantly along the shoreline and its northern origins are in the eastern Arctic islands and the coast of Greenland. Graphic via The Daily Mail.

With regard to how light pollution affects bird migration, the way to greatly limit mass deaths of birds from fatal light attraction is simply to shut off all but essential outdoor lighting in cities that are along bird migratory routes during the migration periods.  The tactic was initiated this year in New York.  From the Daily Mail's April 15, 2015 article:
[New York] state is along the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major routes [in the USA] for migrating birds ... New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said state buildings will turn off 'non-essential outdoor lighting' from 11pm until dawn during spring and fall,
By joining with the National Audubon Society's Lights Out program, the state buildings follow the Rockefeller Center, Chrysler Building and Time Warner Center.
'This is a simple step to help protect these migrating birds that make their home in New York's forests, lakes and rivers,' Governor Cuomo said in a statement.
Lights Out efforts are already protecting birds in the east coast cities including Baltimore and Washington, and in other US metropolitan areas including Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco, according to Audubon.
The Lights Out project extends beyond the cities named, as the Audubon Society's article on North Carolina's Lights Out project indicates.  The article makes clear that lights out doesn't have to be a blanket proposition.  Volunteers scout out building lights that are giving the birds the most trouble, then explain the situation to the building owners.  When you consider that the owners are saving a lot of electricity by shutting off certain of their lights for a few months out of the year, they've probably been cooperative for that reason alone.

Bees, Dementia, and Nicotine Addiction 

The latest scientific speculation about what's killing off bee colonies, from The Daily Mail's June 5, 2015 article on the new research findings,  Bees suffer dementia due to metal pollution: Aluminium contamination may be behind insect decline:
Bees may be declining because they are suffering dementia compared to Alzheimer's caused by eating large amounts of aluminium.
A scientific study found high amounts of aluminium contamination in bees at levels that would cause brain damage in humans.
Bees rely on their tiny brains to navigate to flowers to collect pollen and nectar to eat.
Researchers from the universities of Keele and Sussex studied the levels of aluminium in pupae – the bag-like form bumblebee larvae before they emerge as fully grown adults.
The scientists found that the pupae contained levels of between 13 and 200 ppm (parts per million).

To put it in context, just 3ppm would 'be considered as potentially pathological in human brain tissue.'
Previous research has found when bees forage for nectar they do not actively avoid nectar which contains aluminium.
Researchers at University of Sussex collected pupae from colonies of naturally foraging bumblebees and sent them to Keele University where their aluminium content was determined.
Pesticide residues have been seen as one of the most significant causes of a decline in bee numbers.
But the researchers, whose work is published in the journal Public Library of Science One, suggest the possibility that this aluminium is also contributing to the decline.
Professor Chris Exley an expert on human exposure to aluminium, from Keele University said: "It is widely accepted that a number of interacting factors are likely to be involved in the decline of bees and other pollinators – lack of flowers, attacks by parasites, and exposure to pesticide cocktails, for example.
 "Aluminium is a known neurotoxin affecting behaviour in animal models of aluminium intoxication. Bees, of course, rely heavily on cognitive function in their everyday behaviour and these data raise the intriguing spectre that aluminium-induced cognitive dysfunction may play a role in their population decline – are we looking at bees with Alzheimer's disease?".
The Alzheimer's society advise that although aluminium was linked initially with Alzheimer's disease in humans "the link has not been proven despite continuing investigation".
The bee aluminum ingestion story got a lot of play in the news media, but just as interesting is this summary of an April 22, 2015 report on bee nicotine ingestion accompanying The Daily Mail one on bee dementia
Bees may be getting hooked on nectar laced with nicotine-related chemicals in a similar way to how humans are addicted to the drug in cigarettes.

Many insecticides contain traces of so-called neonicotinoids, which translates to 'new nicotine-like insecticides'.
And despite not being able to taste them, studies have discovered bees - especially those with parasites - will seek out plants laced with such chemicals.
Like nicotine, the neonicotinoids act on certain receptors in the nerve synapses of insects.
Back to the Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes Need Sugar, Not Blood, To Survive
July 18, 2013
Marsha Lewis, ISTV Contributing Producer
Inside Science TV
Now, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are studying ways to trap and kill these pests by focusing on what mosquitoes are addicted to. Surprisingly it’s not blood, but sugar.
"We’re combining sugar solutions with toxicants, various types of pesticides,” said Sandra Allan, entomologist at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.
All mosquitoes need sugar to survive. Female mosquitoes do feed on blood, but both male and female mosquitoes require sugar. In fact, a mosquito needs sugar more frequently than they need blood. Most of the time, mosquitoes get their sugar fix from flowers and other plants, but are also know to prey on humans.

“Right after they emerge, they will start looking for sugar meals,” said Allen.
Capitalizing on the mosquito's insatiable sweet tooth, researchers are using a sugar-based solution to attract the mosquitoes. Then, the toxic insecticide mixed in the sugar kills them.

So far, researchers have found five different classes of insecticides ingredients that were all toxic to mosquito species when used in the sugar baits. The liquid is safe for people and pets and can be used as a trap or a spray.
The sugar-based baits could be on the market within the next few months. [...]
Given that mosquitoes are known to develop immunity to toxins meant to kill them and that the toxins can have deadly effects on other creatures, might it be more effective to study what makes some humans attractive to mosquitoes and not others? 

And wouldn't it be more fruitful to study why some humans bitten by disease-carrying mosquitoes don't get sick from the bites and why others do?

Of course this approach would be ignored by the Frankensteins, but it would cut out nasty surprises down the line when the latest Frankenstein concoction turns out to be poisonous to humans and livestock after all.

There would be another approach that might yield interesting results, if there has been a rise in mosquito-related diseases, not accounted for by human population increases, in parts of world where the consumption of high sugar content drinks has greatly increased during the past century. Take tropical African countries, for example. Coca-Cola made its official debut into the African market almost 130 years ago.

And just a few days ago, on July 1, Allison Jackson at USA TODAY reported Study estimates sugary drinks more deadly than violent crime in Mexico:
GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Mexico is renowned for being one of the most dangerous countries in the world, so it might sound strange to hear that sugary drinks pose a bigger threat to life here than violent crime.
Sugar-sweetened beverages such as Coca-Cola,Gatorade and homemade drinks known as "agua fresca" kill far more people every year in Mexico than criminal gangs.
A study by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University estimates a staggering 24,000 Mexicans die each year from diabetes, cancer and heart disease that are linked to sugary drinks.
Compare that figure to the roughly 15,649 murders officially recorded in 2014 and it's clear which is the biggest killer in the Latin American country.
Worldwide, the total sugary-drink death toll is estimated at 184,000, with more than 70% of deaths caused by diabetes. The researchers said this was the first detailed global report on the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Out of the 20 most populous countries studied, Mexico's death rate from sugary drinks was the highest by a long way, with an estimated 405 deaths per million adults.
The United States was a distant second with an estimated 125 deaths per million adults, although its total number of deaths was slightly higher than Mexico's at 25,000.
Mexico's death rate from sugary drinks is alarming, but not all that surprising when you consider that the country is also the world's biggest consumer of sodas. The average Mexican drinks a whopping 43 gallons of soda each year — nearly 40% more than the average American, who knocks back 31 gallons.
And one of the most popular drinks in the country is Coca-Cola — it's common to see Mexicans drinking the sugar-laden drink at breakfast — with Mexicans drinking more Coca-Cola products than any other country on the planet.
"This is not complicated," said Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and senior author of the study, in a statement.
"There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year.
I think it's widely accepted that the disappearance of large tracts of forested regions have brought many insects including mosquitoes closer to human populations. But that would beg the question as to why some humans aren't affected by mosquitoes.  

Yet the question has been steamrolled by the Frankensteins, from these two blurbs featured in the Test Tube article about mosquitoes:
Insecticide-Treated Nets May Create Super Mosquitoes (Smithsonian)
"Two species of mosquitoes have interbred, giving rise to hybrids that can resist the most potent weapons used against them."

A Mosquito Solution (More Mosquitoes) Raises Heat in Florida Keys (NY Times)
"If the federal Food and Drug Administration gives the go-ahead for the trial, Key Haven, with 444 houses built on a tiny peninsula, would become the focal point of the first American release of several million mosquitoes genetically altered by Oxitec, a British biotechnology company."
What are we going to do with the Frankensteins -- who actually make the original Dr Frankenstein look good?  He is a very foolish man but he lives in the early part of the 1800s so he's vastly ignorant of the scope of damage that applied science can wreak.  The people who've been screwing with Nature on a grand scale in this era don't have his excuse.  And neither do governments and private charitable organizations that have been funding them.

And yet to read through the reports I've cited is to have it brought home that two very different types of scientists now exist.  That one type has a more developed conscience than the other doesn't fully explain the difference.  It is more an allover approach, a profound respect for Nature's intelligence, which separates scientists like Dr Erick Greene from the Frankensteins.  


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