Nicotine and Other Natural Chemicals Protect Bees from Parasites.

Nicotine and Other Natural Chemicals Protect Bees from Parasites.

September 2, 2015 by Entomology Today.

Bumble bees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a new study shows. The findings, soon to be published in the journal Ecology, suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline of bee species.

The researchers previously found in lab studies that nectar containing nicotine and other natural chemicals in plants significantly reduced the number of parasites in sickened bees, but the new study shows parasitized bees already are taking advantage of natural chemicals in the wild.

Parasites are a common natural cause of disease in bumble bees and honey bees, both of which play a vital role in agriculture and plant pollination. The intestinal parasite the researchers looked at can strongly affect their survival, reproduction, and foraging behavior.

The researchers studied the effects of a group of plant secondary metabolites found naturally in floral nectar — iridoid glycosides — on bumble bee foraging and plant reproduction. Iridoid glycosides can deter deer and other herbivores, but the researchers’ earlier studies showed the compounds have a medicinal effect on parasitized bees by reducing their parasite load.

In the new study, the researchers looked at concentrations of two iridoid glycoside compounds, aucubin and catalpol, in nectar and pollen in four populations of turtlehead, a bee-pollinated wetland plant found throughout eastern North America. They then manipulated concentrations of the chemicals in those flowers to study their effects on bee foraging.

The results showed that relative to healthy bees, those infected with the intestinal parasite greatly preferred visiting flowers with the highest iridoid glycoside concentrations. Bees attacked by a second antagonist, a parasitoid fly, did not respond in this way to nectar chemistry. The researchers also found that flowers with the highest concentrations of nectar iridoid glycosides donated significantly more pollen to other flowers following bee visits, showing that nectar chemistry can affect plant reproductive success.

“Secondary metabolites are commonly present in floral nectar and pollen, yet their functions are not well understood,” said lead author Leif Richardson, a former Dartmouth graduate student now at the University of Vermont. “In this study, we show that these compounds could influence plant reproduction via complex suites of interactions involving not only pollinators but also their natural enemies.”

Senior author Rebecca Irwin, a former Dartmouth faculty member now at North Carolina State University, said, “We show that bees might be able to self-medicate, altering their foraging behavior when parasitized so as to maximize their consumption of beneficial plant secondary metabolite compounds.”


EU Becoming Interested in Rewilding.

EU Becoming Interested in Rewilding.

By Tim Sandle.     Oct 1, 2015 in Environment .

Rewilding is a process of environmental management focused on restoring natural ecological processes and reducing human influence on landscapes. A call has been made to spread the process more widely.

The argument for “rewilding” is that the process could be used to restore the ever-expanding areas of abandoned agricultural land throughout Europe. So, instead of mud and rubble a more biodiverse wilderness is created. The call has been made by the European Commission, drawing on a new research study.

In terms of the land available for such a project it is extensive. Active cropland and other agricultural areas has decreased by approximately 19 percent in Europe between 1950 and 2010. Much of this land stands idle.

In setting out the case for returning this land to its natural state (“rewilding”) the European Commission states: “The benefits include reduced loss of money through subsidies, proliferation of diminished native species, reforestation, and the restoration of ecosystem services provided by wilderness.”

To show what might happen, a research group has constructed a series of predictive models. For this, researchers constructed a map showing the potential ‘wilderness quality’ of different regions. Wilderness quality is described as a measure of how readily different areas can be transformed to a more natural state. This is based on the following criteria:

*Artificial light at night;

*Human accessibility;

*Proportion of harvested primary productivity;

*Deviation from potential natural vegetation.

To be suitable, an area will need to have low levels for each of the measures. Data was collected using satellite images and collecting climate data. The study on which the case for rewilding is based has been published in the journal Conservation Biology. The title of the paper is “Mapping opportunities and challenges for rewilding in Europe.”

In related news, plans are being considered to re-introduce some lost species back into the British countryside and U.K waters. Among the species being considered are wolves, whales and lynxes.

Read more:

Week Ending Saturday, October 24th.

Tues. What a cracking day – well at least weather wise!  We spent the morning in ‘hunt the missing Lullington ponies!’  I ended up walking from the SD Way above Jevington to just above Friston pumping station.  Eventually all seven appeared from out of Friston Forest half way along the gallops.  Once located, we drove them back – they knew towards the end of which, where home was and how to get there!

The local farm is having a major security drive at the moment with a number of vehicle barriers being erected on access points in the Litlington area. Joy riders have become apparently an almost nightly occurrence up on the Downs.  These pests had left both gates open where the ponies are and elsewhere, literally driven through some gates in the forest!

In the afternoon at Chailey, we managed to only gather 15 ponies for the night.

Weds. Come the morning, the ponies were still contained within the temporary fenced-off area.  Luckily, just outside of which, were standing the missing five ponies.  While I made the trip with the first load of ponies to Ashdown Forest, where I became temporarily stuck on the greasy clay created by the overnight rain and had to un-hitch and extract the trailer.  Meanwhile back at Chailey, the other five were coaxed in and eventually corralled.  By the end of the day, we had five ponies on site on the new grazing area on Ashdown Forest near Nutley, eight ponies on Red House Common and seven ponies awaiting to go to another new site just outside of Brighton.

Indonesian Forest Fires on Track to Emit More CO2 than UK .

Indonesian forest fires on track to emit more CO2 than UK .

By Damian Carrington. Wednesday 7 October 2015.

Fires raging across the forests and peatlands of Indonesia are on track to pump out more carbon emissions than the UK’s entire annual output, Greenpeace has warned.

As well as fuelling global warming, the thick smoke choking cities in the region is likely to cause the premature deaths of more than 100,000 people in the region and is also destroying vital habitats for endangered orangutans and clouded leopards.

New drone video footage from Greenpeace from around the Gunung Palung national park in Kalimantan shows the peat fires smouldering underground, as well as flames burning down trees, and the thick haze they produce. There have been almost 10,000 fires in the last month across Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and Sumatra, with the drifting smoke also provoking protests from neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

The fires, mostly started deliberately and illegally to clear forest for paper and palm oil production, are on track to match the worst ever year of 1997. As in that year, the region is currently experiencing a strong El Niño climate phenomenon. This creates drought conditions in Indonesia, exacerbating years of draining of peatlands, and creating tinderbox conditions.

“As governments prepare to meet in Paris to save the world from catastrophic warming, the earth in Indonesia is already on fire,” said Greenpeace’s Indonesian forest project leader Bustar Maita. “Companies destroying forests and draining peatland have made Indonesia’s landscape into a huge carbon bomb, and the drought has given it a thousand fuses. The Indonesian government can no longer turn a blind eye to this destruction when half of Asia is living with the consequences.” Indonesia’s pledge to the UN on climate action has been criticised for being vague on how it will halt the fires.

The record forest and peat fires of 1997 produced huge carbon emissions, estimated by scientists at between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatonnes (Gt), equivalent to 13-40% of the entire world’s annual fossil fuel emissions. It lead to the biggest annual jump in CO2 ever recorded. By comparison, the UK’s carbon emissions for the whole of 2014 were 0.52Gt.

The health impact of the forest and peat fires is also expected to be large, with the resulting premature deaths across south-east Asia estimated at 110,000 deaths in an average year. More than 75,000 people are already suffering from upper respiratory infections as a result of the haze, according to media reports.

Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, director of forest fire control in Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, explained why so many fires are started deliberately:“Burning the forest is the fastest, cheapest and most profitable method, instead of clearing with heavy equipment,” he told Associated Press.  “Our regulation is clear: no burning of forests. But [big corporations] violate the law for the sake of profits.” He described the burning peatlands as a vast smouldering stove, burning up to 10 metres (33 feet) deep.

“Ironically, intact peatlands are actually very fire resistant, as they are protected by a high water table,” said Professor Susan Page, an expert on Indonesia’s peatlands at the University of Leicester, UK. “The problem arises when peatlands are drained. Dry peat ignites very easily and can burn for days or weeks, even smouldering underground and re-emerging away from the initial source. This makes them incredibly difficult to extinguish.”

The threat to wildlife is extreme, according to Mark Harrison, of the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop). “Tropical peat-swamp forests are one of the world’s most important ecosystems. They are home to globally threatened wildlife, including the orangutan, southern Bornean gibbon and clouded leopard,” he said.

“OuTrop’s main research site in the Sabangau forest, Kalimantan, is a peat-swamp that is home to the world’s largest orangutan population,” said Harrison. “Fire here not only burns the surface vegetation, but also the peat soil that has taken thousands of years to form. This makes fire the biggest threat to Sabangau’s orangutans and many other species that call this forest home.”

The Indonesian government has deployed more than 22,000 soldiers, policemen and fire personnel to fight the fires, with aircraft conducting water-bombing and cloud-seeding operations. Another 6,000 soldiers are expected to be deployed soon.

But peatland fires are very difficult to extinguish and the only permanent solution is to restore and protect rainforests and peatlands. Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, has pleaded for the patience, saying the haze is “not a problem that you can solve quickly.” He said: “You will see results soon, and in three years, we will have solved this.”

Indonesia’s government estimates that 63% of its greenhouse gas emissions are the result of forest and peatland fires and land use change, but others say the proportion is as high as 80%. In May, the government extended a moratorium on deforestation, but activists have called for it to be strengthened as it currently excludes secondary forests and areas earmarked for “national development”.

Badger Culling 2015: Where Are We Now?

Zoological Society of London information sheet.

Badger culling 2015: where are we now?

by Rosie Woodroffe on

September 18th, 2015

For the ambitious civil servant, there must be no worse nightmare than a transfer to TB section. For decades, efforts to control bovine tuberculosis in Britain have been mired in uncertainty and controversy. It’s almost impossible to succeed, because the solution is guaranteed to infuriate somebody.

The TB problem is a genuine one. Frequent cattle testing keeps the disease more or less in check, but this testing places a financial and emotional strain on farmers which cannot and should not be ignored. Although most transmission to cattle comes from other cattle, badgers also help to maintain the disease. To many farmers, badger culling seems an obvious solution – but there are two major obstacles. First, badgers are among Britain’s most iconic species, protected by their own Act of Parliament, and beloved by many. Second, scientific evidence shows that badger culling must be all-or-nothing: virtually eradicating badgers from vast swathes of countryside would probably help to reduce cattle TB, but culls which are small-scale, patchy, inefficient or discontinuous have been found to increase TB rates in cattle. So, there can be no compromise: killing a few badgers may be more acceptable to the public, but it is likely to worsen the TB problem.

This last point may seem counter-intuitive; the underlying mechanism relates to the interplay between badger numbers and badger behaviour. Left undisturbed, family groups of badgers defend their territories against intruders: this behaviour also stops diseased badgers from ranging widely through the countryside. But culling disrupts this territorial system. Badgers which have evaded culling, and those which move in to exploit land vacated by culling, range more widely and mix more freely with one another, increasing the spread of disease. After culling there are fewer badgers, but each badger is more infectious to cattle because it is more likely to be infected, and because it ranges across more farms. Hence, only culls which greatly reduce badger density can be expected to reduce cattle TB.

Public affection for badgers is an important argument against eradicating them, but it’s not the only obstacle. Because badgers are nocturnal and forage alone, killing large numbers of them requires considerable effort and cost. To try to reduce these costs, the government sought to replace cage-trapping (the method which had been used for decades) with “controlled shooting” of free-ranging badgers using high-powered rifles and shotguns. In 2013, it initiated a test of the safety, humaneness, and effectiveness of controlled shooting within two “pilot” culling areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire. It stated that: “If monitoring of the humaneness, effectiveness and safety indicates that controlled shooting is an acceptable culling technique, then and only then would this policy be rolled out more widely”.

After two years of pilot culling, the government has indeed decided to “roll out” the approach to a new area in Dorset. So did the pilot culls show that culling was safe, humane, and effective?


“Controlled shooting” raised a number of safety concerns, not least because the culls attracted considerable public protest. The prospect of demonstrators clashing by night with armed marksmen in remote rural areas was worrying to some. Nevertheless, beyond some “near misses” recorded in Gloucestershire, and some unpleasant interactions which must have been frightening to all involved, the safety of the pilot culls has not turned out to be an issue of broad concern.


Rifles are widely used to shoot other wild mammals, but badgers’ low-slung shape and nocturnality make them a challenging target for a clean kill. The Independent Expert Panel which oversaw the first pilot culls noted that human victims of gunshot wounds are initially so shocked that they feel no serious pain for the first five minutes. The panel therefore reasoned that death within five minutes of shooting might be considered humane. Unfortunately, in the 2013 pilot culls between 7.4% and 22.8% of badgers were still alive five minutes after being shot. Efforts were made to improve humaneness when the pilot culls were repeated in 2014, but with little success: the equivalent figures were 4.1-18.6%. On this basis, the British Veterinary Association called for controlled shooting to be abandoned as a culling method. This advice was dismissed by the farming Minister, who stated simply that “we don’t agree”. Controlled shooting was once again approved for use in 2015.

Particularly worrying is the use of shotguns to kill badgers. The Independent Expert Panel cautioned that it had received too few data from the 2013 culls to be able to assess the humaneness of free shooting with shotguns, and called for shotgun use to be either discontinued or rigorously monitored. The government initially committed to close monitoring, but subsequently chose not to allow the use of shotguns for free shooting in 2014. Although there is consequently no evidence of the humaneness (or otherwise) of killing free-ranging badgers with shotguns, this activity was licensed in 2015.


Because changes in cattle TB take years to emerge, the government chose to measure the effectiveness of the pilot culls as the reduction in badger population size that they achieved. This makes sense because, as explained above, killing too few badgers increases cattle TB rather than reducing it. The government aimed for licensees to reduce the density of resident badgers by at least 70%. In 2012, when the licensees felt unable to kill the required numbers of badgers, the Secretary of State delayed the culls, saying that: “It would have been quite wrong to go ahead when [licensees were] not confident of reaching the 70% target and could have made the position worse.”

When the pilot culls took place in 2013, they conspicuously failed to kill the requisite number of badgers, taking just 37-51% in Somerset, and 43-56% in Gloucestershire. The annual culls were repeated in 2014, but there was no quantitative assessment of the population reduction achieved. However, simple calculations (detailed here) suggest that the aim of reducing badger numbers by “at least 70%” was once again missed by a mile. Nevertheless, the same aim was reiterated in 2015 when the government gave the go-ahead for a third year of culling.

However, the small print associated with the cull licenses tells a different story. To try to make sure that enough badgers are killed, each licensee is given a minimum number of badgers which must be killed within a single six-week period each year. Setting these minimum cull numbers is difficult, because badger numbers are very uncertain. The situation can be likened to a short-sighted person competing in a high-jump competition without their spectacles. The bar to be jumped has a specific location in space, but to the short-sighted competitor it appears fuzzy, with a location known only approximately. Scientists represent such uncertainty using a “95% confidence interval”. For example, the 95% confidence interval around the pre-cull estimate of badger numbers in the Somerset cull zone was 1,876-2,584, meaning that there is a 95% probability that the true number of badgers was less than 2,584, but more than 1,876. The minimum numbers of badgers to be killed in 2015 were derived from this lower 95% confidence limit – an approach which would normally have only a 1 in 40 chance of reducing badger numbers by “at least 70%” as planned. In the high jump analogy, this is akin to a short-sighted athlete hoping to jump over the fuzzy bar he perceives by aiming for its lower margin. While there’s a small chance that he’ll clear the bar, crashing into it is much more likely.

Figures from the Gloucestershire cull zone show the craziness of this approach. Although the 2014 cull missed its minimum target by 341 badgers (274 killed, when the licence required 615), the minimum number to be killed in 2015 (265) is insufficient to make up the difference, even if it is (conservatively but improbably) assumed that neither immigration nor births occurred since the 2014 cull was completed.

The government described the choice of such low minimum numbers as “realistic” since earlier, higher, targets were not met. They also described it as “precautionary”. It is important to stress that this choice is by no means precautionary in the context of disease control because, as the previous Secretary of State agreed, killing too few badgers risks increasing TB risks for cattle.

Beyond the pilot culls.

In setting up the pilot culls, the government stated that badger culling would be rolled out to new areas only if it was shown to be safe, humane, and effective. To justify this year’s rollout to Dorset it has ditched independent scrutiny, dismissed the veterinary profession’s views on animal welfare, and indulged in some statistical limbo-dancing to fix the figures on effectiveness. Its chutzpah would be comical, if it didn’t risk more dead cattle, more dead badgers, and more ruined farmers.

But there’s more to come. The government has also announced a public consultation on further watering down the requirements for culling licences. Restrictions on the maximum cull duration, minimum cull area size, and minimum percentage of accessible land were all put in place to avoid making the cattle TB problem worse. Now the government considers these necessarily stringent criteria “unduly inflexible” and proposes to relax or abandon them. Mysteriously, it states that: “these proposals are not expected to materially affect the benefits of culling on levels of bTB in cattle”, despite the wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary. You can read ZSL’s response to the public consultation here: ZSL bTB consultation response September 2015 (106.66 KB).

Proponents of culling point to the crippling economic burden of TB control, demanding that something be done about it. But the government’s own cost-benefit analysis predicted that culling would not protect enough herds to be financially worthwhile. Since then, the culls have proven much less effective than anticipated (reducing the likely benefits), and much more costly, with each badger killed to date costing taxpayers around £7,000. Additional costs have been borne by farmers themselves.

Scientists are advised to present the evidence but to leave policy recommendations to others. So: the evidence suggests that licensed badger culling is inhumane and costly, with limited expected benefits for TB control and a realistic prospect of detrimental effects. This view is shared by many independent scientists, including the chairs of three successive committees advising government on the matter. Proposed changes to licence conditions are likely to further reduce the benefits of culling for farmers, and increase welfare costs for badgers. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about how these statements should inform policy.

I started by describing the difficulties of advancing an effective TB control policy. But, in fact, progress is being made. After years of steady increase, cattle TB rates are starting to decline. This change is not related to badger culling; it almost certainly reflects improved cattle controls starting to take effect. This decline is especially marked in Wales, where cattle testing has been most stringent; recently, further tightening of cattle controls has been proposed for England. At the same time, improved understanding of how, where and when badgers and cattle come into contact – including findings emerging from my own research group – should eventually help farmers to improve biosecurity by discouraging badger-cattle contact. Badger vaccination is also a promising tool, although there needs to be a better evaluation of its impact on cattle TB. Vaccinating badgers is already cheaper than culling, and investigations are underway to further reduce costs, both by involving volunteers, and by developing an oral formulation which does not require capturing badgers. Before the pilot culls commenced, a team of scientists (myself included) warned publicly that: “badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control”. It looks as though we may have been right.

Week Ending Saturday, October 3rd.

What a busy week and what fantastic weather to be working in!

Monday.  Continued with the erection of the 1900 metres of electric fencing at Shooters Bottom.  This site has caught me out a little, as there is come autumn, far more grass than I anticipated.  Later in the day, we re-jigged the fencing at the NT’s Blackcap, west of Lewes, in order to facilitate gathering-in of the ponies later this week.

Tuesday.  Moved the 11 remaining ponies at the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren reserve near Eridge down to Belle Tout.  With much appreciated help from the RSPB volunteers, some deft legwork and a helping of smoke and mirrors, we had them corralled.  Our ‘new’ livestock trailer is proving to be a real asset to our work, well designed and providing flexibility to our operations.

Wednesday.  Spent much of the day finishing off the fence at Shooters Bottom.  A lot of interest from members of the public in what we were doing and with the ponies encamped at Belle Tout.

Thursday.  Another long day with carrying out the move of the 10 ponies at Blackcap over to Shooters Bottom.  Eight came down off the Downs easily, Anna and Rj later valiantly managed to coax the remaining two off.  A late finish, what with running into the gridlocked traffic by Lewes on the last return trip.