Tag Archives: climate change

Reflections on the dawning of the Anthropocene

We are now officially in the Anthropocene Age which is probably not a good thing.  It seems an appropriate moment to reflect on what we can do to halt, or at the very least, slow down, what seems to be an unstoppable race to extinction of most of the natural world.  We all know what the principal causes are despite the obfuscation and prevarication that surrounds the debate. Equally, we are also aware of the mainly political and economic pressures that are preventing us from doing something to ease the pain and suffering we are inflicting on the world. I am not going to rehearse the arguments, but instead I will let the following speak to us all about why we need to keep and enhance what nature we have remaining.

Anthropocene

“Though large herds of deer do much harm to the neighbourhood, yet the injury to the morals of the people is of more moment than the loss of their crops.  The temptation is irresistible; for most men are sportsmen by constitution: and there is such an inherent spirit for hunting in human nature, as scarce any inhibitions can restrain” Gilbert White (1788)

Passenger_pigeon_shoot

They didn’t know any better – Passenger pigeon flock being hunted in Louisiana (Credit: Smith Bennett, 1875/Public domain.)

Anthropocene 2.GIF

They should know better – mind boggling and shocking

“Really I did deserve a chastisement for my intrusion into the meadow, the disastrous consequences of which I now had power to perceive to the full extent. I had bruised the tender stalks of springing grass, broken quantities of buds, and destroyed myriads of living creatures. In my stupid simplicity I had never had any suspicion of the pain I caused while perpetrating these evil deeds, and had been in a state of delight at the profound peace pervading the country, and the charms of solitude” E van Bruyssel (1870)

Anthropocene 3.

“We can never afford to lose sight of past and present human activities in their effects on the vegetation of countries which have been long inhabited and densely populated, like those of Western and Central Europe” A G Tansley (1923)

“On the favourable side of the balance, I think that I am superior to the common run of men in noticing things which escape attention, and in observing them carefully.  My industry has been great as it could have been in the observation and collection of facts.  What is far more important, my love of natural science has been steady and ardent” Charles Darwin (1929*)

“We have tried to conquer nature by force and by intellect.  It now remains for us to try the way of love It is impossible to use the full resources of the soil except with a mixture of plants (either grown together as in pasture or mixed crops grown in succession as a in a proper rotation of crops).  In monoculture it is impossible to keep disease at bay for long, and in addition it is impossible to feed animals properly except on a varied mixture” Lord Northbourne (1940)

Anthropocene 4.png

“The soil is among Nature’s greatest marvels. A clod of earth, seeming simple and lifeless, is now known to be highly complex in structure, its particles most elaborate in their composition, with numerous invisible crevices inhabited by prodigious numbers of living organisms inconceivably small, leading lives of which we can from only the haziest conception, yet somehow linked up with our lives in that they produce the food of plants which constitute our food, and remove from the soil, substances that would be harmful to us” Sir John Russell (1957)

“Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song” Rachel Carson (1962)

“I believe the strongest argument for keeping as much of the natural world as possible in the anthrosphere lies in the human need for variety, individuality, and the challenge of endeavouring to understand the nonhuman world.  I believe, too, that emersion in the world of trees, flower, and wild creatures is needed to nourish human attributes now in short supply: awe, compassion, reflectiveness, the brotherhood we often talk about but rarely practice except on the most superficial of levels”  Howard Ensign Evans (1966)

Epping

“I have heard it said more than once that the reason why there are more wire-worms afflicting the crops than in the past is that there are more tractors. The idea being that since the tractor-driven plough turns over three or four furrows at a time as against the horse-plough’s one furrow, the results is that birds get far fewer troughs in which to find worms,  Thus more worms are left in the soil.  It is an attractive theory, there is something cheering in the knowledge that Nature always hits back.  Everything in nature has a meaning and a purpose.  Everything is necessary to the universal scheme, every germ, every microbe, every pest.  When anything ceases to serve the harmony it dies out” John Stewart Collis (1973)

“Humanity now co-opts something in the order of one-twentieth of all the photosynthesis – the primal driving process of life on the planet – for its own uses.  And through its activities, Homo sapiens now threatens to alter the basic climatic patterns of the globe” Paul & Anne Ehrlich (1981)

“The rescue of biological diversity can only be achieved by a skillful blend of science, capital investment, and government: science to blaze the path by research and development; capital investment to create sustainable markets: and government to promote the marriage of economic growth and conservation” Edward Wilson (1992)

“Despite what developers will tell you about restoration, she said, once a piece of land is graded, the biologic organisms and understructure of the soil are destroyed.  No one knows how to really re-create that, short of years of hand-weeding.  Leaving land doesn’t work; the natives are overwhelmed by the invaders” Richard Louw (2005)

“Eventually some truth dawned: nature conservation is essentially concerned with mending the relationship between people and Nature, and is an expression of love for, and an interaction with, the beauty and wonder of the natural world, and with belonging in Nature” Matthew Oates (2015)

Enjoying Malham

“Evidence shows that loss of interactions with nature changes people’ s attitudes toward nature, including the values they place on it, their beliefs concerning the environment, their perceived norms of environmental ethics, and their willingness to protect nature” Soga & Gaston (2016)

I could go on, and on, but I think you get the picture.  We could have done so much so earlier.

Please share your favourite passages, be they gloomy or optimistic, by adding them to the comments.

 

References

Carson, R. (1962) Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin, USA.

Collis, J.S. (1973)  The Worm Forgives the Plough. Penguin Books

Darwin, C.  (1929) Autobiography of Charles Darwin, Watts & Co., London (

*published posthumously)

Ehrlich, P.  & Ehrlich, A. (1981) Extinction, Random House, New York.

Evans, H.E. (1966)  Life on a Little-Known Planet, University of Chicago Press, USA.

Louw, R. (2005)  Last Child in the Woods, Atlantic Books, London.

Northbourne, W.J. (1940) Look to the Land, J.M. Dent & Sons.

Oates, M. (2015) In Pursuit of Butterflies: A Fifty-Year Affair, Bloomsbury, London.

Russell, Sir, E.J. (1957) The World of the Soil, Collins, London.

Soga, M. & Gaston, K.J. (2016) Extinction of experience: the loss of human–nature interactions.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14, 94-101

Tanlsey, A.G. (1923) Introduction to Plant Ecology, George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Van Bruyssel, E. (1870) The Population of an Old Pear Tree, MacMillan & Co. London

White, G. (1788) The Natural History of Selborne, Penguin Edition 1977.

Wilson, E.O. (1992) The Diversity of Life, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, USA.

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Midwinter Madness – The Snow flea

Between 1982 and 1992 I worked as a research and advisory entomologist for the UK Forestry Commission based at their Northern Research Station just outside Edinburgh. For the first five years of my time there I worked almost exclusively on the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea. The pine beauty moth is

snowflea 1

a native insect that became a pest of a non-native tree, Pinus contorta, then a tree that was widely planted over northern Britain. The majority of planting in Scotland was in the north and this meant that my study sites were in Sutherland and Caithness and Aberdeenshire. My main experimental forest was west of Aberdeen in the Spey valley (very handy for the whisky trail) in the Elchies block of Criagellalchie Forest.

snow flea 2

My experimental forest with nearby distillery marked 😉

In Mid-January 1984, I headed north to do some maintenance on my head capsule collecting funnel traps.

snowflea 3

In those days, snow was a perennial hazard, even in the south of Scotland and as I progressed northwards the drifts at the side of the road became increasingly higher. When I reached the forest gates, it was obvious that I was not going to be able to drive to my site. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the snow glistened. A perfect day for a walk, albeit one of 10 km. Luckily, the weather had been sunny for the last couple of days so the snow was mostly hard enough to walk on. Only in a few places did I break the surface and find that I was standing on about a metre depth of snow. Two hours later as I was approaching my field site, squinting against the sun bouncing off the white untouched snow, I saw black spots moving on the surface. My immediate thought was that I was suffering the first stages of snow-blindness, but as I got nearer I saw that the black dots were actually insects. At first sight I thought I was hallucinating, was this some strange bizarre form of life perhaps an aphid-fly hybridization experiment gone wrong? On closer examination I realised that I was looking at wingless Mecopterans.

snow flea 4

Male snow flea, Boreus hyemalis http://mecoptera.free.fr/Boreus-hyemalis.html

 

snow flea 5

Female Boreus hyemalis, note the sting-like ovipositor. http://www.wbrc.org.uk/WORCRECD/32/Bingham–John–Snow_Flea_Boreus_hyemalis.html

Although I was familiar with Scorpion-flies, I had never seen these critters before.

snow flea 6

The aptly named Scorpion fly Panorpa communis : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scorpion_Fly._Panorpa_communis._Mecoptera_(7837166610).jpg

I collected a few to send off for identification and confirmation and carried on into the depths of the forest to check on my funnels. On returning to civilization a day or so later I sent my specimens off to the Natural History Museum and shortly after was informed that I had they were the snow flea, Boreus hyemalis and that I had extended the recorded range of this particular species, albeit only by a few miles.

snow flea 7

My record – it lasted 10 years as the furthest north before M.S.C. Elliott recorded it in February 1994 in Easter Fearn in the north-west Highlands.

Boreus my record

Distribution of Boreus hyemalis in 1994; my record, then the furthest North.

 

snow flea 9

Current recorded distribution of Boreus hyemalis – obviously widespread – just lacking people willing to go and look for it in the winter 🙂

So what is a snow flea. It is of course, not a flea, being a Mecopteran or Scorpion fly, albeit non-winged.  In Britain there are three species with wings (in the genus Panorpa), the larvae and adults both being predatory on other insects. The adult snow flea is about 5mm long, and lives among moss on which it feeds as both a larva and adult (Withycombe, 1922, 1926). Interestingly, the BugLife site states that they are predatory in both the larval and adult stage. I am not sure where they got this information as they do not cite a reference and all the published literature I have seen indicates that they are moss feeders (Withycombe, 1922, 1926; Fraser, 1943; Hågvar, 2010). Indeed, Wthycombe (1922) conducted a series of experiments on the larvae and conclusively demonstrated that they were unable to complete their development unless fed on moss, although the adults will apparently also feed on dead insects.

These are true winter-active insects, adults emerging in October and November when they mate and lay their eggs the eggs at the base of moss plants), Polytrichium commune being the preferred host (Fraser, 1943). The eggs start to hatch in November and the larvae forage within the moss clumps, pupating towards the end of the summer, emerging as adults after 6-8 weeks.  The adults, which are wingless, thus come out in the coldest months of the year, usually between October and April.  They are most easily seen when walking or jumping on the snow surface. Considering that the adults are winter-active they have a surprisingly high super-cooling point (-6.5oC) (Sömme & Östbye, 1969), especially when compared with the cereal aphid, Sitobion avenae, which has a super-cooling point of -24oC but rarely survives English winters (Knight & Bale, 1986). The BugLife site wonders “how they (snow fleas) manage to jump up to 5 cm without muscular hind legs” but Burrows (2011) found that their jumping prowess is by virtue of large depressor muscles within the thorax which enables them to jump distances of up to 10 cm with a take-off velocity of 1 m s-1, indicating a force of about 16 times their body weight.  So aptly named in this respect too.

The Snow flea is not found (or at least has not been recorded) in the mild south-west of Britain, seeming to prefer areas with a harsher winter. Climate warming may thus pose a threat for this intriguing and little studied insect. Perhaps it is time for us all to venture out in mid-winter and start scanning the surface of snow drifts in heathland areas for these elusive creatures before it is too late.

 

References

Burrows, M (2011) Jumping mechanism and performance of snow fleas (Mecoptera, Boreidae). Journal of Experimental Biology, 214, 2362-2374.

Fraser, F.C. (1943) Ecological and biological notes on Boreus hyemalis (L.) (Mecopt., Boreidae). Journal of the Society for British Entomology, 2, 125-129

Knight, J. D. & Bale, J. S. (1986). Cold hardiness and overwintering of the grain aphid Sitobion avenae. Ecological Entomology 11, 189-197.

Sömme, L. & Östbye, O. (1969) Cold-hardiness in some winter active isnects. Norsk Entomologisk Tidsskrift, 16, 45-48

Withycombe, C. L. (1922). On the life history of Boreus hyemalis L. Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, 1921, 312-318.

Withycombe, C. L. (1926). Additional remarks upon Boreus hyemalis L. Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 62, 81-83.

 

Useful link

For more images and observations see http://www.wbrc.org.uk/WORCRECD/32/Bingham–John–Snow_Flea_Boreus_hyemalis.html

 

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By the side of the River Liffey – ENTO’15 Dublin

This year, the Royal Entomological Society’s biennial symposium was held at Trinity College, Dublin (September 2nd-4th). This was the first time that the Society has held its symposium meeting outside the UK. The symposium theme this year was Insect Ecosystem Services, whilst the Annual Meeting which ran alongside the symposium meeting this year, was divided into nine themes, Biocontrol, Conservation, Decomposition, Insect Diversity and Services, Multiple Ecosystem Services, Outreach, Plant-Insect Interactions, Pollination and just in case anyone was feeling left out, Open.

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The meeting convenors, Archie Murchie, Jane Stout, Olaf Schmidt, Stephen Jess, Brian Nelson, and Catherine Bertrand, came from both sides of the border so that the whole of Ireland was represented.

As a number of us were going from Harper Adams University we decided to use the Sail-rail option (any mainline station in the UK to Dublin for £78 return). We were thus able to feel smug on two levels, economically and ecologically 🙂 We set out on the morning of Tuesday 1st September from Stafford Railway Station, changing at Crewe for the longer journey to Holyhead.

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Andy Cherrill, Tom Pope, Joe Roberts, Charlotte Rowley and Fran Sconce look after the luggage.

Just over two hours later we arrived at Holyhead to join the queue for the ferry to Dublin.

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In the queue at Holyhead.

Two of my former students were supposed to join us on the ferry but due to a broken down train, only one of them made it in time, Mark Ramsden being the last passenger to board whilst Mike Garratt had to wait for the next ferry.

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Tom Pope and Mark Ramsden relaxing on board the ferry.

We arrived at Trinity College in the pouring rain, but still got a feel for some of the impressive architecture on campus.

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I never quite worked out what this piece of art was about, although the added extra made me smile.

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The bedrooms were very self-contained – the bed was rather neatly built into the storage although it did make me feel like I was sleeping on a shelf.

Lincolns

After settling in we found a pleasant pub and sampled some of the local beverages.

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Despite the beverage intake, I was up bright and early on Wednesday morning, in fact so early, that I was not only first at the Registration Desk, but beat the Royal Entomological Society Staff there.

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After setting up our stand we were able to enjoy the programme of excellent plenary talks and those in the National Meeting themes. There was a great deal of live tweeting taking place so I thought I would give you a flavour of those rather than describing the talks in detail.  For the full conference experience use Twitter #ento15

Dave Goulson from Sussex University,  was the first of the plenary speakers and lead off with a thought-provoking talk about the global threats to insect pollination services.

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I was a bit disappointed that John Pickett, who was chairing the session cut short a possibly lively debate between Lin Field and Dave Goulson about pesticide usage.

The next plenary speaker was Akexandra-Maria Klein from Freiburg speaking about biodiversity and pollination services.

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The third plenary speaker was Lynn Dicks from Cambridge asking how much flower-rich habitat is enough for wild pollinators?

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I was the fourth plenary speaker, talking about how entomology and entomologist have influenced the world. I deliberately avoided crop protection and pollination services.

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I was very pleased that my talk was on the first day as this allowed me to enjoy the rest of the meeting, including the social events to the full.

The following day, Jan Bengtsson from SLU in Sweden spoke about biological ontrol in a landscape context and the pros and cons of valuing ecosystem services.

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Jan was followed by Sarina Macfadyne from CSIRO, Australia, who spoke about temporal patterns in plant growth and pest populations across agricultural landscapes and astounded us with the list of pesticides that are still able to be used by farmers in Australia.

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The next plenary speaker, Charles Midega – icipe spoke about the use of companion cropping for sustainable pest management in Africa and extolled the virtues of ‘push-pull’ agriculture.

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The last plenary of Day Two was Jerry Cross of East Malling Research who enlightened us about the arthropod ecosystem services in apple orchards and their economic benefits. He also highlighted the problems faced by organic growers trying to produce ‘perfect’ fruit for the supermarkets.

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The third day of the conference plenaries was kicked off by Michael Ulyshen from the USDA Forest Service – who reviewed the role of insects in wood decomposition and nutrient cycling. My take-home image form his talk was the picture of how a box of woodchips was converted to soil by a stage beetle larvae completing its life cycle.

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The last plenary of the morning was Craig Macadam from BugLife who explained to us that aquatic insects are much than just fish food and play cultural role as well as an ecological one.

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The afternoon session of the last day was Sarah Beynon, the Queen of Dung Beetles who enthralled us with her stories of research and outreach . It was a testament to the interest people had in what Sarah had to say, that the audience was till well over a hundred, despite it being the last afternoon.

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The final plenary lecture, and last lecture of the conference, was given by Tom Bolger from the other university in Dublin, UCD. Hi subject was soil organisms and their role in agricultural productivity.

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I know that I have only given you a minimal survey of the plenary lectures, but you can access the written text of all the talks in the special issue of Ecological Entomology for free.

I did of course attend a number of the other talks, and had to miss many that I wanted to see but which clashed with the ones that I did see.

Eugenie Regan gave a great talk on her dream of setting up a Global Butterfly Index.

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One of my PhD students, Joe Roberts, gave an excellent talk on his first year of research into developing an artificial diet for predatory mites.

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Katie Murray, a fomer MREs student of mine, now doing a PhD at the University of Stirling, gave a lively talk on Harlequin ladybirds and the problems they may be having with STDs.

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Rudi Verspoor, yet another former MRes student gave us an overview of a project that he and Laura Riggi, have developed on entomophagy in Benin.

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Peter Smithers from Plymouth University gave an amusing and revelatory talk the ways in which Insects are perceived and portrayed. Some excellent material for my planned book on influential entomology 😉

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Chris Jeffs, yet another former MRes student gave an excellent presentation about climate warming and host-parasitoid interactions.

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My colleague (and former MSc student) Tom Pope bravely volunteered to step into a gap in the programme and gave an excellent talk about how understanding vine weevil behaviour can help improve biological control programmes.

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Jasmine Parkinson from the University of Sussex, and incidentally a student of a former student of mine, gave an excellent and well-timed talk about mealybugs and their symbionts.

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Charlotte Rowley from Harper Adams gave an excellent talk about saddle-gall midge pheromones.

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Another former student, Mike Garratt, now at Reading University, gave an overview of his work on hedgerows and their dual roles as habitats for pollinators and natural enemies.

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There were also excellent talks by Jessica Scrivens on niche partitioning in cryptic bumblebees, Relena Ribbons on ants and their roles as ecological indicators, Rosalind Shaw on biodiversity and multiple services in farmland from David George on how to convince farmers and growers that field margins are a worthwhile investment. My apologies to all those whose talks I missed, I wanted to see them but parallel sessions got in the way.

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Richard Comont, whose talk I missed, very recognisable from the back 😉

 

I leave you with a selection of photographs from the social parts of the programme including our last morning in Dublin before catching the ferry home on Saturday morning.

 

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The Conference Dinner – former and current students gathering.

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Tom Pope signs the Obligations Book – his signature now joins those of Darwin and Wallace.

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Archie Murchie with RES Librarian Val McAtear.

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The youngest delegate and his father; I hope to see him at Harper Adams learning entomology in the near future.

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Entomologists learning how to dance a ceilidh.

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Moving much too fast for my camera to capture them.

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Academic toilets – note the shelf on which books can be placed whilst hands are otherwise occupied.

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On site history.

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Impressive doorway in the Museum café.

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The Natural History Museum was very vertebrate biased.

aphid

They certainly didn’t way know the best way to mount aphids.

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I was, however, pleased to see a historical Pooter.

 Leaving

On our final day the sun actually made an appearance so our farewell to Ireland was stunning.

And finally, many thanks to the conference organizers and the Royal Entomological Society for giving us such a good experience.  A lot to live up to for ENTO’16 which will be at Harper Adams University.  We hope to see you there.

Postscript

As a result of being tourists on Saturday morning we were exposed to a lot of gift shops and in one I impulsively bought a souvenir 😉

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