In This Issue
- Genetic Study of Endangered Woodpeckers
- Honey and Wild Bee Populations are Threatened
- Current Literature
Ancient DNA was recently extracted and sequenced from museum specimens of endangered Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (collected between about 80 and 150 years ago in North America and Cuba) and compared to DNA sequences of the Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico. The project, recently published in Biology Letters by National Museum of Natural History scientists Robert Fleischer and Carla Dove, and their colleagues, began as a simple barcoding effort to add the Ivory-billed Woodpecker sequence to the Barcode of Life Database (BoLD), and to test whether a feather found in 1968 in Florida was really an Ivory-billed Woodpecker feather, but soon turned into a more interesting investigation about the evolutionary relationships of the woodpeckers themselves.
Analysis of the DNA sequences from all three woodpeckers revealed that they form a monophyletic group relative to other species of their genus. They are genetically equidistant, suggesting that each lineage is a separate species. Further, it was estimated that the three lineages split more than one million years ago in the mid-Pleistocene thus excluding previous notions that Native Americans introduced the North American Ivory-billed Woodpecker to Cuba.
The DNA sequences of all three woodpeckers also provide an important barcoding resource for identification of non-invasive samples or remains of these critically endangered and charismatic woodpeckers.
By Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Domesticated honeybees and their native counterparts, which the nation depends on to pollinate billions of dollars worth of fruits, vegetable and other crops, are disappearing thanks to pesticide use on crops and gardens and the destruction of their habitats. The looming agricultural catastrophe that their demise portends, as well as potential solutions, is explored in the summer 2006 edition of OnEarth, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), available at <http://www.nrdc.org/OnEarth/06sum/default.asp>.
Experts interviewed by author Sharon Levy for her OnEarth article "The Vanishing Bee" blame the widespread use of pesticides by farmers who unintentionally poison domesticated honeybee colonies. Non-native species of parasitic mites are also deadly to honeybees. For these reasons, native wild bees will become even more important as pollinators, but they too are threatened because their habitats - natural woodlands, shrubs and flowers - have been decimated by relentless sprawl and development and by modern agriculture's poor land-management practices.
One-third of the food Americans eat comes from crops that are pollinated by bees or other creatures, including butterflies, birds and bats. As they travel from plant to plant, bees transfer pollen that fertilizes blossoms and allows fruits and vegetables to develop. Without bees, many of the foods we enjoy - tomatoes, squash, peppers, apples and pears, for example - could disappear from our tables. Domesticated honeybees, in particular, are in steep decline. In the 1940s, American beekeepers had about 5 million colonies. Today, their colonies number about 2.3 million, while the demand for their services is increasing.
Without the support of migratory beekeepers, crops would fail across the country; therefore, the demise of many of the colonies is having a serious effect on America's farmers, Levy reports. When one-third of all commercial honeybee colonies died out in 2005, for example, the $1.2 billion California almond crop was threatened.
Experts interviewed by Levy believe we can still rescue honeybees and native wild bees by limiting our use of pesticides and by setting aside space for plants that nurture bees.
"Bees are the 'canary in the coal mine' for American agriculture. Their demise is a warning. But there are solutions that make environmental - and economic - good sense," said Doug Barasch, OnEarth's editor-in-chief. "Putting those solutions into practice depends on farmers, homeowners - all of us - realizing that protecting bees is in our own self interest."
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Kittredge, D.B., Clark, K., Ohmann, M., Huckery, P., and French, T. 2006. Protection of habitat for state-listed rare flora and fauna in Massachusetts during timber harvesting. Nat. Areas J. 26(2):198-207.
Komar, O. 2006. Ecology and conservation of birds in coffee plantations: a critical review. Bird Conserv. Int. 16(1):1-23.
Kraaijeveld-Smit, F.J.L., Griffiths, R.A., Moore, R.D., and Beebee, T.J.C. 2006. Captive breeding and the fitness of reintroduced species: a test of the responses to predators in a threatened amphibian. J. Appl. Ecol. 43(2):360-365.
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LeJeune, K.D., Suding, K.N., and Seastedt, T.R. 2006. Nutrient availability does not explain invasion and dominance of a mixed grass prairie by the exotic forb Centaurea diffusa Lam. Appl. Soil Ecol. 32(1):98-110.
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