Death of a Species

The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear – NYTimes.com.

This is scary – only 3 million monarch butterflies have shown up to their wintering ground in Mexico.  Last year it was only 60 million, and in times past it was a billion.  These butterflies fly over 2,000 miles from North America to a particular group of fir-covered mountaintops west of Mexico City.

This year they didn’t make it.

The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear - NYTimes.com

Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.

That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.

The high price of corn has lead to the plowing and planting of previously “weedy” land which provided food for bugs and birds.  The use of Round-Up ready GMO seeds means that any weeds are killed by the application of pesticides, while the corn continues to grow.  Unfortunately, Monarchs don’t feed on corn.

The loss of bugs is no small matter. Insects help stitch together the web of life with essential services, breaking plants down into organic matter, for example, and dispersing seeds. They are a prime source of food for birds. Critically, some 80 percent of our food crops are pollinated by insects, primarily the 4,000 or so species of the flying dust mops called bees. “All of them are in trouble,” said Marla Spivak, a professor of apiculture at the University of Minnesota.

Another cause is people – we pave over subdivisions, and then plant showy plants that aren’t good for bugs.

Trees and other plants have beneficial chemicals essential to the health of bugs. Some monarchs, when afflicted with parasites, seek out more toxic types of milkweed because they kill the parasites. Bees use medicinal resins from aspen and willow trees that are antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, to line their nests and to fight infection and diseases.

Not only are we killing off the bugs, we are inadvertently killing ourselves:

First and foremost, said Dr. Tallamy, a home for bugs is a matter of food security. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” he said. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”

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Monarch Butterflies Struggle

Geography in the News: Monarch Butterflies Struggle – News Watch.

Near the end of February each year, scientists studying monarch butterflies at their overwintering sites in Central Mexico witness signs that the butterfly colonies were “breaking up.” This separation of tens of thousands of butterflies clustered together on single trees indicate that the populations are preparing for their lengthy spring migration from Mexico to the United States and Southern Canada. This year’s colony numbers were depressed by 59 percent and scientists are worried.

Monarchs have migrated to Mexico for thousands of years, one generation going south, and different generations heading north.  No one knows how they do it.  But we may not have the chance to study these mass migrations much longer, as the species are currently declining at an alarming rate.

One particularly disturbing conclusion is the effect of the decline in milkweed along the migration paths owing to the use of herbicides and perhaps some genetically engineered corn in U.S. agriculture. Milkweed is particularly susceptible to pre-emergent and defoliant herbicides.

Since all Monarch caterpillars live on milkweed, a decline in that species would be devastating.

How will we protect the butterflies?  What will happen if we don’t?

La Nina returns

via Drought Causes Mexico Food Shortages : Image of the Day.

The growing season of 2011 was not kind to the southern United States and northern Mexico. As racing fires, heat, and record-dry conditions in Texas claimed attention, crops were quietly failing across the border in northern Mexico.

The current La Nina, which is strengthening again, is probably to blame for the prolonged drought.  Mexico has begun food deliveries to  Tarahumara communities in the northern region of Mexico, which have hit hard by food shortages due to the drought.

The peaking La Nina will bring rain and storms to parts of North America, but here in Texas we have more drought to look forward to.

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