Archive for the ‘Biodiversity’ Category

Sunday, 28 May 2023 07:24:03


Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘Symbioses shape feeding niches and diversification across insects’


Symbioses shape feeding niches and diversification across insects


Nature Ecology & Evolution (2023)

For over 300 million years, insects have relied on symbiotic microbes for nutrition and defence. However, it is unclear whether specific ecological conditions have repeatedly favoured the evolution of symbioses, and how this has influenced insect diversification. Here, using data on 1,850 microbe–insect symbioses across 402 insect families, we found that symbionts have allowed insects to specialize on a range of nutrient-imbalanced diets, including phloem, blood and wood. Across diets, the only limiting nutrient consistently associated with the evolution of obligate symbiosis was B vitamins. The shift to new diets, facilitated by symbionts, had mixed consequences for insect diversification. In some cases, such as herbivory, it resulted in spectacular species proliferation. In other niches, such as strict blood feeding, diversification has been severely constrained. Symbioses therefore appear to solve widespread nutrient deficiencies for insects, but the consequences for insect diversification depend on the feeding niche that is invaded.

Read on: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-023-02058-0

Read Full Post »

April 26, 2023

Diverse landscapes help insects cope with heat stress, study shows

by Kati Kietzmann, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)Halle-Jena-Leipzig The movements of this beetle (Carabus coriaceus) have been tracked with the help of a RFID tag. Credit: Stefan Bernhardt, iDiv

Global warming is affecting terrestrial insects in multiple ways. In response to increasingly frequent heat extremes, they have to either reduce their activity or seek shelter in more suitable microhabitats. A new study led by researchers from the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Friedrich Schiller University Jena shows: The more diverse these microhabitats are, the better for the insects. For their study, published in Global Change Biology, they developed a new approach to accurately track insect movements and activity.


Anthropogenic global warming has far-reaching implications for the world we live in. Some of these changes might be less obvious and often go unnoticed for a long time. For example, a warming climate is also affecting terrestrial insects such as beetles, ants, and butterflies. To survive under great heat, they have to either reduce their physical activity to conserve energy, or seek shelter in a cooler environment.

A natural and diverse ecosystem offers many microhabitats that provide more favorable climate conditions as well as food for insects. But in the face of land-use changes, the diversity of these microhabitats is declining. This is not only affecting terrestrial insects, but also the important ecosystem services they are providing, such as pollination, the formation of humus and general improvement of soil quality.

A team led by researchers from iDiv and Friedrich Schiller University Jena studied the effects of a warming climate and the availability of microhabitats on the activity of terrestrial insects. For their study, they used the iDiv Ecotron, which consists of several isolated ecosystems (so-called EcoUnits). Here, environmental conditions such as light, nutrients and humidity can be controlled and manipulated. The researchers studied six insect species that can be found in the surrounding area of Leipzig (Germany), including the beetle species Carabus coriaceus, firebugs (Pyrrhocoris apterus), and house crickets (Acheta domesticus).

Accurate activity tracking based on radio frequency identification

To accurately track the movements of a total of 465 insect individuals, the researchers developed a new tracking method based on radio frequency identification (RFID). “Heavy GPS collars that are typically used for large mammals are not suitable for small animals such as insects. With the help of a very light RFID tag, we can now also track movement patterns of insects in complex habitats,” says first author Jördis Terlau, who led the study as a doctoral researcher at iDiv and Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

Within the EcoUnits, the researchers simulated heat extremes based on data that had been recorded by the Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD) in 2018 and 2019. Temperatures were reaching a maximum of 38.7°C. They also added leaf litter from four different tree species to the EcoUnits—the litter was either separated or well-mixed. With the help of the RFID tracking, they found that insects apply different strategies in response to heat extremes, depending on the microhabitat conditions. In mixed litter conditions, the insects significantly reduced their activity. In contrast, they increased their activity when the leaf litter was spatially separated. “We assume that mixed leaf litter not only provides protection from heat, but also various food sources. Insects can move less and still find enough food, which helps them save energy,” says Jördis Terlau.

Diverse microhabitats can mitigate the effects of heat extremes

However, in environments with spatially separated leaf litter, the insects had to move more in order to find enough food and leave their shelter. This, in turn, increased their energy consumption, which is of disadvantage under extreme heat and increases the risk of overheating. “This stresses the importance of diverse habitats and microhabitats. In this way, the effects of extreme heat on insects can be significantly mitigated,” says last author Dr. Myriam Hirt from iDiv and Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

The study also highlights the various benefits of heterogeneous habitats such as mixed forests. They provide terrestrial insects with favorable conditions and food, and help ensure that important ecosystem services can be provided in the future also in the face of climate change.

More information: Jördis F. Terlau et al, Microhabitat conditions remedy heat stress effects on insect activity, Global Change Biology (2023). DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16712

Journal information: Global Change Biology

Provided by German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)Halle-Jena-Leipzig

Explore further

Large animals travel more slowly because they can’t keep cool, finds study

Read Full Post »

Evidence for Biodiversity Insurance Hypothesis: More Species Are Indeed Beneficial


As part of a study on the diversity of wild bee species involved in pollinating fruit crops over multi-year periods, a group of researchers mapped the timing of peak abundance for each species. One of the more than six dozen species of wild bees to visit eastern watermelon fields was Agapostemon texanus, sometimes known as the Texas sweat bee (male shown here). (Photo by Thomas Langhans via Flickr, republished with permission)

By Leslie Mertz, Ph.D.

Leslie Mertz, Ph.D.

Greater biodiversity yields greater ecosystem resilience. Despite the overwhelming acceptance of this concept, called the “insurance hypothesis,” validation for it has been sparse. A detailed study of wild bee species in fruit crops, however, has provided clear data showing that diversity in these vital pollinators is necessary for consistent flower cross-fertilization over multiple years.

“It’s a little surprising to me: This is one of the more talked-about ideas dealing with sustainability, biodiversity, and ecology,” says Rachael Winfree, Ph.D., professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University. “But people haven’t really tested it empirically all that often—actually collected the data to see how it plays out—and that is exactly what this paper did.”

Winfree is a co-author of the study, published in August 2022 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. It tracked which wild bee species were doing the pollinating in two common fruit crops and found that species not only rotated during a single season but also varied from year to year.

closeup image of face of a Habropoda laboriosa bee. face, eyes, and legs below are near black, while thorax in background is blonde in color. bee is photographed in front of an all-black background.
closeup side view of a bee with rusty brown eyes and legs and yellow-and-black striped thorax and abdomen. photographed against an all-black background. at the rear end of the bee, two narrow bristled appendages extend backward, below the stinger. as the USGS Been Inventory and Monitoring Lab caption on Flickr notes: "What are those? No one seems to know but all the Triepeolus have modified their sixth sternite in this way."

“This is actually evidence that, yes, biodiversity really does matter. You do see fluctuations from year to year, so diversity does provide insurance for the pollination services the bees provide,” says Natalie Lemanski, Ph.D., who conducted the analytics side of the research as part of Winfree’s group and was the study’s lead author. Lemanski is now assistant professor of biology at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

For the study, the researchers identified which wild bee species were visiting blossoms over a three-year span on 16 blueberry farms in the eastern U.S. and 36 watermelon farms in the western U.S. as well as over a six-year span on 25 watermelon farms in the eastern U.S. That involved a great deal of meticulous identification work, but they took it one step further. They also wanted to know how much pollination each species was supplying, so they collected individual bees, allowed each to pollinate a virgin flower, and then counted the number of pollen grains deposited.

“So, if a single bee of this species deposits five pollen grains on average, then we can multiply that by how many visits this species is making in a given time period and use that to estimate the amount of pollen being delivered by a species in the field,” Lemanski says.

“That was quite time-consuming work to do and probably a big part of why we don’t have more of these types of longer-term datasets,” she says. “But, if you don’t look over the long term, you might be missing the fact that different bees might be important in different years or even in different parts of one year.”

The three- and six-year datasets provided a clear picture of the changeover in wild-bee pollinators. On the blueberry farms, the number of species needed to maintain a threshold level of pollination was 47 percent  higher over a three-year span versus a single year. On watermelon farms, the number of needed species was 62 percent higher over three years versus one year, and 219 percent over a six-year span versus a single year. Lemanski speculates that longer-span datasets would likely reveal that even more species engage in pollination.

Portrait photo of Natalie Lemanski, Ph.D.
Rachael Winfree, Ph.D., and Neal Williams, Ph.D., kneel in front of a wire fence in a grassy field on a sunny day. in front of Williams, at right, is a potted plant with small purple flowers.

Although the study didn’t investigate the specific causes of species variability, many things can account for differences over a season or over years, and that includes climate change. “Climate change can make a difference in a variety of ways. One way is just through more extreme weather events that may favor certain species over others,” Winfree says. “Whenever the environment you’re living in gets more variable, it tends to be the case that you benefit from having a lot of different species, because chances are you’ll have some that are okay with the current environment, and some that aren’t.”

This study underlines why detailed, multi-year studies, as well as careful analytics, are critical to understanding ecosystem function, Lemanski says: “Going out into the field in your cargo shorts and boots is an important part of ecology, but finding patterns in data is also a huge part of ecology work, and looking at the data over years and in new ways can give you new insights. Absolutely.”

Read More

Greater bee diversity is needed to maintain crop pollination over time

Nature Ecology & Evolution

Leslie Mertz, Ph.D., writes about science and runs an educational insect-identification website, www.knowyourinsects.org. She resides in northern Michigan.

Read Full Post »

Europe Launches Initiative to Save PollinatorsThe newly-proposed strategy aims at stopping the decline in pollinators by creating a ban on some pesticides and passing new agricultural measures.
By Paolo DeAndreisFeb. 4, 2023 18:04 UTC

Listen to this article
0:00 / 3:59

European regulators have launched a new initiative that will update E.U. strategies to halt the steady decline of pollinator insects.According to the European Commission, bees, butterflies and hoverflies are among the most quickly-disappearing insects on the continent.Introducing its new initiative, A new deal for pollinators,” the E.U. governing body acknowledged the growing number of European citizens and associations warning against the loss of pollinators and asking for decisive action.”

See Also:Report: Mediterranean Agricultural Biodiversity at Risk

The new proposal’s main goal is to reverse pollinators’ decline by the year 2030.The initiative builds on three main pillars. The first will focus on the conservation of pollinator species, the identification of their habitats and the establishment of ecological corridors for pollinators.

Pollinatorbriefs-world-europe-launches-initiative-to-save-pollinators-olive-oil-timesA pollinator is an organism that helps in the transfer of pollen from the male parts of a flower to the female parts, facilitating fertilization and reproduction in plants. Some common examples of pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and bats.

The second pillar will aim at restoring degraded habitats and boosting pollinator-friendly farming through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This E.U. multi-year strategy manages funds and compensates farmers who meet certain environmental standards.The third pillar will focus on mitigating pesticide’s impact on pollinators. The Commission provided examples of how to implement this pillar, such as creating legal requirements to use integrated pest management strategies in European farming operations.Other actions might address additional test methods for determining the toxicity of pesticides for pollinators, including sub-lethal and chronic effects.”The Commission explicitly cited its recent proposal for the sustainable use of pesticides. That proposed regulation would drastically reduce the use of pesticides in the European Union. According to the Commission, its implementation is crucial to restoring pollinator-friendly farmland.On top of this, the E.U. Commission noted that the new initiative would also aim at restoring habitats for pollinators within cities.More generically, the new initiative will aim at tackling the impact on pollinators of climate change, invasive alien species and other threats such as biocides or light pollution.”To assess the pollinator decline and investigate its causes and consequences, the Commission noted that the proposed initiative paves the way for more research and novel monitoring systems capable of improving loss assessment and habitat mapping.The decline of pollinators poses a threat to both human well-being and nature. The loss of pollinators undermines long-term agricultural productivity, further exacerbating a trend influenced by other factors, notably the current geopolitical situation with Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” the Commission noted.Introducing the new initiative, the Commission emphasized that four of five European crops depend on pollinators. Its contribution to the E.U.’s agricultural output is estimated to be at least €5 billion per year,” the Commission wrote.Most of the essential benefits that pollinators provide remain unquantified, such as their contribution to nutrition security and health, or to maintaining ecosystem health and resilience by pollinating wild plants,” the document stated.While asking European citizens to cooperate in raising public awareness, the Commission will also support member countries who define national pollinator strategies in line with the new initiative.The regulation update comes on the heels of several other European pollinator-protection strategies, such as the E.U. Biodiversity Platform, which includes measures and goals focused on protecting pollinators. The Commission also included the new initiative in the Nature Restoration Law presented last June. Under that law, national strategies to protect pollinators must be included in each nation’s broader National Restoration Plans.

Read Full Post »

Open Letter on the crucial role of fungi in preserving and enhancing biodiversity

Latest news

Published on14.12.2022



When we think of forests we usually think of trees, plants and animals. But forests could not exist without fungi, which lie at the base of the biodiversity webs that support much of life on Earth.

Most fungi live as branching, fusing networks of tubular cells known as mycelium which can make up between a third and a half of the living mass of soils. Globally, the total length of fungal mycelium in the top 10cm of soil is more than 450 quadrillion km: about half the width of our galaxy. These networks comprise an ancient life-support system that easily qualifies as one of the wonders of the living world. Despite that, fungi represent a meagre 0.2% of our global conservation priorities.  

Fungi are largely invisible ecosystem engineers that have shaped life on Earth for more than a billion years. In fact, around 500 million years ago, fungi facilitated the movement of aquatic plants onto land, fungal mycelium serving as plant root systems for tens of millions of years until plants could evolve their own. This association transformed the planet and its atmosphere – the evolution of plant-fungal partnerships coincided with a 90% reduction in the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Today, most plants depend on mycorrhizal fungi – from the Greek words for fungus (mykes) and root (rhiza) – which weave themselves through roots, provide plants with crucial nutrients and defend them from disease.

Put simply, fungal networks embody the most basic principle of ecology: that symbiosis is fundamental to life on earth. Plants supply carbon to their fungal partners in exchange for nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus – much of the phosphorus that makes up the DNA in your own body will have passed through a mycorrhizal fungus. In their exchange, plants and fungi engage in sophisticated trading strategies. The influence of these quadrillions of microscopic trading decisions spills out over whole continents. Globally, at least 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide are allocated from plants to mycorrhizal networks each year.

A call to action

A paradigmatic but often forgotten example of the keystone role of fungi is in the world’s forests, which are among the most important biological systems on our planet. They are our largest terrestrial carbon sink and the main terrestrial source of precipitation and oxygen. They house much of the planet’s biodiversity, serving as irreplaceable libraries of different ways to rise to the challenge of living.

However, current biodiversity, climate change, and sustainable food strategies, including forest restoration efforts overlook fungi and focus overwhelmingly on plants (flora) and animals (fauna). We urgently need to add a third “F” – funga – to create holistic conservation strategies that simultaneously address the triple planetary challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and food security.  

Fungi must be incorporated into law-making and decision-making in international environmental treaties and frameworks, as well as national agricultural and environmental laws and policies, and local conservation and environmental initiatives. We invite the leaders meeting in COP 15 to start this process by adding fungi to the Post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Fungi have long sustained and enriched life on our planet. It’s time they receive the attention they deserve.

This open letter was written by:

Marc Palahí, Director European Forest Institute
Toby Kiers, Director Society for the Protection of Underground Networks
Merlin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Life
Giuliana Furci – Executive director, Fungi Foundation & co-chair IUCN SSC Fungal Conservation Committee
Robert Nasi, Chief Executive Officer, CIFOR-ICRAF
César Rodríguez-Garavito, Professor of Clinical Law and Director, Earth Rights Advocacy Clinic, New York University School of Law

Photo: Carolina Magnasco/Fungi Foundation


Read Full Post »

Video: UNESCO examines the environmental and biodiversity impacts of gene-edited plants and animals

UNESCO | November 8, 2022

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Credit: UNESCO
Credit: UNESCO

Genome editing is a powerful tool. It allows us to modify genes not only to treat human diseases but also to change characteristics of animals and plants within a very short period of time at a much larger scale than any other methods that humans had ever used in the past. A technique called “gene drive” that uses genome editing to spread certain genes in the entire population of a target species could eradicate diseases caused by insects such as malaria and other vector borne diseases. Plants and animals could be more resistant to diseases and grow quicker. But is it safe? What would be the impact on the environment and biodiversity?

The third of the series of Ethics of Genome Editing “3. Impact of Genome editing on plants, animals and environment” is now available in English, French, Japanese, Spanish and other languages subtitles.

Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.


See the original post here

combined disclaimer outlined@ x

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Read Full Post »

Sky Islands: Isolated Mountaintops Teem With Unique Insect Communities


For a study of the communities of parasitic wasps on mountains in the Interior Highlands of Arkansas, one of the sites chosen was Mount Magazine State Park in Arkansas, which rises 709 meters (2,326 feet) above sea level. With cooler, wetter climates than lowlands nearby, such each feature their own communities of parasitic wasps—and likely other insects—that differ from the insect fauna found on other mountains and in the surrounding valleys, according to a new study published in August in Environmental Entomology. (Photo courtesy of Allison Monroe)

By Ed Ricciuti

Ed Ricciuti

It’s not quite Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Lost World of dinosaurs, but the insect life found by scientists atop so-called “sky islands” in Arkansas ranks as truly unique.

“Sky island” is a term popularized in the 1960s to describe isolated mountains with environments markedly different than that of surrounding lowlands. Conan-Doyle prefigured such environments in his story about an expedition that explored a plateau rising above jungle, where prehistoric dinosaurs, reptiles and “ape men” had survived the ages.

Although not as dramatic as dinosaurs, isolated endemic populations of animals of any size excite scientists. According to a study published in August in Environmental Entomology, such distinct assemblages of insects in the order Hymenoptera (sawflies, bees, wasps, and ants) live atop uplands in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois called the Interior Highlands.

The study, by student researchers at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, focused on parasitic wasps inhabiting three mountains, but the results can be extrapolated to other sky islands in the region and their insects in general, the researchers say.

“Given that each sky island in our study showed unique community characteristics of Hymenoptera, it is reasonable to predict that other insects follow the same pattern,” the authors write. Mountains studied were Petit Jean Mountain at 253 meters (830 feet) in elevation, Mount Magazine at 709 meters (2,326 feet) and Rich Mountain at 747 meters (2,451 feet).

field site

Parasitic Hymenoptera are a multitudinous group, with 50,000 or so identified species and perhaps millions in all. Typically, they parasitize other insects by laying their eggs in host eggs, larvae, or pupae. They are of immense ecological importance because they are fine-tuned to specific hosts, including many pest species, which they can regulate, like natural pest control managers. “We chose parasitic Hymenoptera as our focal group because they are considered bioindicators of broader diversity patterns, especially those of other insects,” the authors write.

The Interior Highlands, centered in Missouri and Arkansas and including the Ouachita Mountains and Ozark Plateau, were chosen as a study site because they have been above sea level for 320 million years, likely serving as a refuge for ecological communities avoiding the impact of the Pleistocene glaciers. The region is the only major mountainous area between the Appalachians and the Rockies, covering much more area than the Black Hills of South Dakota. Typical of the Interior Highlands, Mount Magazine is 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than normal temperatures in the landscape down below and wet, with an annual rainfall of 54 inches. Crowned with upland hardwood and upland pine-hardwood forests, these mountains rise from grasslands, with vegetation ranging from tallgrass prairie to lowland pine-hardwood and bottomland hardwood forests.

Much of the area where the research was conducted lies in state and federal lands. Sweating in the hot summer sun, the research team trekked along hiking trails from grasslands into woodlands. They set up traps, then collected insects from them.

“Though evidence is accumulating that the Interior Highlands host unique species relative to other areas of the North American continent, there is less known about how mountaintops within the region compare in terms of biodiversity,” the researchers write. “We used parasitic Hymenoptera to explore biodiversity patterns across high elevation areas in Arkansas to determine whether these patterns are similar to those exhibited by other sky island regions.”

malaise trap
research team

Each mountaintop had its distinct community of parasitoid species, indicating that the same applies to Hymenoptera in general and even to other groups of insects. On a given mountaintop, communities differed stratigraphically, with those on the ground distinct from those in the forest canopy.

The results of the study suggest the need for additional research. “Our study suggests that these highland areas are important regions of North American biodiversity and that they should be evaluated individually for conservation efforts in order to preserve their distinctive community structure,” the authors write.

Elaborating on the study, lead author Allison Monroe, says, “This study is important for a variety of reasons. Parasitic wasps are deeply important to our environment but are often overlooked if not deeply hated.”

Monroe, now a Ph.D. candidate at the Oregon State University College of Forestry, says, “Arkansas is an incredibly biodiverse state with high rates of agricultural production, yet little research exists on insect biodiversity trends and their applied impacts on diverse land management strategies within this system. We hope that this paper brings to light the extraordinary diversity housed in Arkansas, the importance of insect biodiversity more broadly, and the significance of parasites in our pursuits of nature conservation.”

Read More

Biodiversity of Parasitic Hymenoptera Across Sky Islands of Arkansas, United States

Environmental Entomology

Ed Ricciuti is a journalist, author, and naturalist who has been writing for more than a half century. His latest book is called Bears in the Backyard: Big Animals, Sprawling Suburbs, and the New Urban Jungle (Countryman Press, June 2014). His assignments have taken him around the world. He specializes in nature, science, conservation issues, and law enforcement. A former curator at the New York Zoological Society, and now at the Wildlife Conservation Society, he may be the only man ever bitten by a coatimundi on Manhattan’s 57th Street.

Read Full Post »

Disease-resistant GM cassava promises to be game-changer for Kenya


AUGUST 15, 2022


At the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) center in Mtwapa, Kenya, scientist Paul Kuria uproots two sets of cassava tubers exposed to the devastating cassava brown streak disease (CBSD).

One of the plants is a conventional cassava variety that has no immunity to the disease. The second has been genetically modified (GM) to resist the disease. Kuria punctiliously slices each of the tubers open, and the difference between the two is stark — like night and day.

The conventional tuber looks emaciated and is punctured with brownish, unsavory spots dotting the entire circumference of its flesh. The GM tuber, on the other hand, is the picture of good health. Its skin is flawless and firm, and its flesh has an impeccable, white lustre.

CBSD is considered one of the world’s most dangerous plant diseases due to its significant impact on food and economic security. Cassava varieties that are resistant to the disease could considerably improve the crop’s ability to feed Africa while generating income for smallholder farmers.

In severe cases, the disease can lead to 100 percent yield loss. As noted by KALRO and its partners, cassava resistant to CBSD is in high demand by farmers where the crop is grown.

Meeting that demand has been an elusive target for plant breeders. But through modern biotechnology, a collaborative effort known as the VIRCA project has developed CBSD-resistant cassava line 4046. It has the potential to prevent 90 percent of crop damage, thus improving the yield and marketability of cassava roots.

“We used genetic engineering and produced an improved cassava,” Professor Douglas Miano, the lead scientist in the project, told journalists and farmers who toured the KALRO grounds in Mtwapa in early August.

“It’s the first GM cassava in the world, and Kenya is leading in this production,” Miano said.

The VIRCA (Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa) project was conceived in 2005 with the aim of solving the viral diseases that suppress cassava yields and reduce farmer incomes in East Africa. It brings together KALRO, the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre (DDPSC) in the United States.

“We have two main diseases affecting cassava production — CBSD and cassava mosaic disease,” Miano explained. “Cassava mosaic disease affects the leaves of the crop. The net effect is a reduction in the amount of cassava that is produced. CBSD, on the other hand, destroys the roots and affects the tuber.”

Scientists Paul Kuria displays GM disease-resistant cassava (left) vs cassava infected with CBSD. Photo: Joseph Maina

Dr. Catherine Taracha, a Kenyan who is on the project’s leadership team, said that plant viruses create a huge challenge for farmers.

“Cassava productivity is significantly hampered by viral diseases, and so we sought to develop a cassava line that would resist the viruses and thereby improve farmers’ livelihoods by boosting productivity and earnings from the crop,” Taracha said.

Because the line is yet to be approved for commercial release, the work is being carried out in regulated confined field trial conditions. If and when Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority approves line 4046 for the market, the new CBSD-resistant varieties would undergo normal government variety assessment and registration by regulators before being distributed to farmers.

The scientists further assure that CBSD-resistant cassava varieties are no different than their conventional equivalents — aside from their ability to resist CBSD.

“Due to the ability to resist CBSD, these varieties will be more productive with better quantity and quality of root yields,” Miano said.. “This will translate to greater demand and more profits for farmers.”

In addition, CBSD-resistant cassava line 4046 will produce disease-free planting material and thereby contribute to long-term sustainability of the cassava crop.

There will be no technology fee associated with line 4046, scientists say, implying that cassava stakes and cuttings will cost about the same as other highly valued cassava varieties.

Cuttings from CBSD-resistant cassava can be replanted in the same way farmers replant conventional cassava. They can also be grown with other crops because cultivation practices are the same as for conventional varieties.

The developers have further assured that CBSD-resistant cassava line is safe for the environment and biodiversity.

“We have developed the GM cassava up to the point where we have conducted all the safety studies and demonstrated that it is safe as food, feed and to the environment,” Miano said.

The general public and key stakeholders have been involved in the project, and it is anticipated that farmers and communities will be involved in selecting the best CBSD-resistant cassava varieties for their needs.

Cassava roots and leaves are the nutritionally valuable parts of the plant. The tuber is rich in gluten-free carbohydrates while the leaves provide vitamins A and C, minerals and protein. In addition to its nourishing properties, stakeholders have also identified cassava’s potential to spur Kenya’s industrial growth.

“Cassava is an important food crop, but we can also use it to industrialize in Kenya,” Miano asserted. “However, we have not yet been able to achieve this as a country.”

Miano identified starch as a potential cassava product that the country can leverage to advance its industrial growth. It is also projected that the improved cassava can protect farmers from devastating losses of this important food crop and contribute to the creation of thousands of jobs along the value chain due to the crop’s use as animal feed.

The scientists note that modern biotechnology is by far the best option to incorporate CBSD resistance in cassava cultivars carrying farmer-preferred characteristics. Similar approaches have been used to confer resistance to plant viruses and have been authorized by regulatory bodies around the world, including virus-resistant pawpaw, squash and beans.

Image: Scientist Paul Kuria displays cassava infected with cassava brown streak disease (left) and a GM variety that resists the devastating disease. Photo: Joseph Maina


Read Full Post »

Weevils in caves, fish, and an ant that ‘babysits’ caterpillars among 139 new species classified by CSIRO

ABC Science


By environment reporter Nick Kilvert

Posted Mon 8 Aug 2022 at 3:00pmMonday 8 Aug 2022 at 3:00pm, updated Mon 8 Aug 2022 at 4:34pmMonday 8 Aug 2022 at 4:34pm

A strange pink organism on a leaf.
A gall caused by a newly classified species of gall wasp called Antron lovellae.(Supplied: CSIRO/Ron Russo)

Help keep family & friends informed by sharing this article

abc.net.au/news/csiro-names-139-new-species-animals-and-plants/101305442COPY LINKSHARE

The CSIRO has released details of more than 136 new species of animals and three plants identified in the past year.

The new species include four fish, 117 insects, 11 jumping spiders, three plants, a frog, a millipede, an earthworm, and a marine trematode — a parasitic flatworm. 

The trematode was found inside a fish.

Close up of sucker mouth.
The oral sucker of Enenterum petrae under microscope. Baby Petra doesn’t know how lucky she is.(Supplied: Daniel Huston/Zootaxa)

Now called Enenterum petrae, it was named after the baby daughter of its identifier, Petra.

David Yeates, director of the CSIRO’s Australian National Insect Collection, said choosing a favourite out of the newly identified species was a bit like being asked to “choose a favourite child”.

However, he said one of the most interesting is a species of ant — now known as Anonychomyrma inclinata — which “babysits” the caterpillars from one of Australia’s  rarest butterflies, the bulloak jewel butterfly.

An ant.
The newly named ant Anonychomyrma inclinata is the ‘obligate attendant’ for the rare and beautiful bulloak jewel butterfly Hypochrysops piceatus.(Supplied: CSIRO/Jon Lewis)

“The ants carry the little caterpillars out from under the bark of the bulloak tree to feed on the soft tips of the leaves or needles at night; they carry them out and then back,” Dr Yeates said.

It’s a symbiotic relationship, where the ants protect the caterpillars from other ants, and get something in return, he said.

The butterfly, the ant and the mistletoe

To save one of Australia’s rarest butterflies we also need to save an unnamed ant species, an endangered woodland and a parasitic plant.

An illustration of trees with birds, ants, butterflies and raindrops, and a hand holding a chainsaw in the foreground.

Read more

“The ants feed on a sugary substance that the caterpillars produce from glands. The ants get this nice sugary secretion and the butterflies get protection.”

As well as it being a fascinating strategy, that knowledge helps to direct efforts to conserve the bulloak jewel butterfly.

“When we’re trying to manage that rare and beautiful butterfly, we know it only occurs where that ant occurs in that particular [species of] tree.”

A colourful butterfly.
The bulloak jewel butterfly has a symbiotic relationship with an ant that looks after its young.(Supplied: CSIRO/Michael Braby)

With only an estimated 25 per cent of Australian species having been formally identified, this work highlights the important role that the CSIRO’s National Research Collections perform, according to Dr Yeates.

Australian fauna — especially insects — is still poorly researched compared with fauna  in most other developed countries.

“That’s an important point for Australians to understand. Australia is still the land of discovery.

“We have a first world economy, good infrastructure, but we drive past new species all the time.

“For a biologist to come here from Europe or China for example, they think it’s the land of milk and honey, because there are so many new species for them to work on.”

A pink and yellow fish.
The purple-tip anthias is found in around 110 metres of water.(Supplied: CSIRO/Queensland Museum)

Other species in today’s haul include the purple-tip anthias, which has been found in waters between about 110 and 119 metres deep, off southeast Queensland.

Of the newly named fish species, three were types of anthias, and the fourth was a silverspot weedfish.

A mottled red fish.
The silverspot weedfish is found off southwest Western Australia in 55-100m depth.(Supplied: CSIRO)

Most new fish species that are being classified are small, non-commercially viable species that tend to live in deep water where they are rarely encountered.

While that appears to be the trend, Dr Yeates said a few years ago a large, deepwater cod species was discovered at a fish market.

A lineup of beetles.
Specimens of Undarobius howarthi and U. irvini, the two new species of weevils in the new genus Undarobius found in lava caves at Undara Volcanic National Park in north-eastern Queensland.(Supplied: CSIRO)

Of the newly discovered insects,  34 were beetles, including two new weevils found in the lava tubes at Undara Volcanic national park in Far North Queensland.

A weevil close up.
A new species of weevil discovered in the Undara lava tubes in Far North Queensland.(Supplied: CSIRO)

The two weevil species are the first cave-dwelling weevils to be described in Australia, according to the CSIRO.

The weevils have long, arachnid-like legs, are blind, and appear to have adapted to life in the darkness.

It’s possible that the two species, called Undarobius howarthi and U. irvini are relics from a period when the region was covered in rainforest.

A person stands in a cave with a torch.
Entomologists visiting the Bayliss Cave, a lava cave in Undara Volcanic National Park, to search for beetles.  (Supplied: CSIRO)

Not all the insects identified by CSIRO and their partners were from Australia; 39 were species of gall wasps from the Americas.

Gall wasps typically cause grotesque growths to form on plants, and can create problems if they become invasive pests, such as the native citrus gall wasp, which has spread across Australia.

How do scientists know if it is a new species?

One of the many challenges in identifying new species, is working out whether you in fact have a new animal, or just a funny looking, but known one.

Animals and plants can develop different physical properties, known as phenotypic expression, depending on pressures in their particular environment.

The Tasmanian blue gum for example, can reach 100 metres in height in Tasmania’s forests, but stunted versions of the same species just a few metres tall are found on the coast.

How the eucalypt took over our landscape

Eucalypts may look ancient, but they took over Australia in a surprisingly short period of time. 

Eucalypt bushland

Read more

Other species may change markedly depending on gender, and what stage of life they are at.

Which is why it’s important to have large collections such as the Australian National Research Collection.

Having lots of species in one place allows scientists to compare features to properly distinguish between their characteristics.

Even then, very specific expertise is required to work out where the animal or plants sits in its phylogenetic tree.

“What happens is that specimens that belong to new species accumulate in collections, and it’s a fair bit of effort to figure out if they’re new or not,” Dr Yeates said.

ABC Science on YouTube

Want more science — plus health, environment, tech and more? Subscribe to our channel.

Read more

“It can take quite a bit of time and effort, including looking at their genes and genomes to determine if they really are different.”

It’s likely that many species will become extinct in Australia, or have already become extinct, before we’ve had a chance to identify them.

Figuring out what’s what, means we can better understand where conservation efforts need to be targeted, according to Dr Yeates.

“We can start to get information on how to manage it, whether it’s declining, and what factors might impact its survival.”

Want more science from across the ABC?

Science in your inbox

Get all the latest science stories from across the ABC.

Your information is being handled in accordance with the ABC Privacy Collection Statement.Email addressSUBSC

Read Full Post »

African scientists launch biodiversity genomics revolution

Busani Bafana | Cornell Alliance for Science | June 17, 2022

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Sequencing a continent as large and biodiverse as Africa is a unique challenge. Credit: Klawe Rzeazy
Sequencing a continent as large and biodiverse as Africa is a unique challenge. Credit: Klawe Rzeazy

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news,
opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.

Though Africa is home to the second largest collection of biodiversity on earth, many of its unique plants, animals and microbes are facing extinction due to human activities and climate change.

Tragically, very little is known about many these species — a dearth of knowledge that is depriving the world of innovations and solutions to pressing challenges in food, nutrition and health.

But that’s about to change. A group of African scientists — experts in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics — have set an ambitious goal to unlock the secrets of plant and animal diversity across the continent through a unique genome sequencing project.

Rich diversity, limited knowledge

The African BioGenome Project (AfricaBP), launched in 2021, seeks to sequence the genomes of 105,000 endemic plants, animals, fungi and other organisms that have economic, scientific and cultural significance.

The project, which currently involves more than 109 African scientists and 22 African organizations, will decode each organism to explore the rich biodiversity of 2,500 indigenous African species, including the Boyle’s beaked blind snake (Rhinotyphlops boylei) from southern Africa and the red mangrove tree (Rhizophora mangle) from Nigeria.

Genome sequencing will inform biodiversity conservation across Africa and strengthen the continent’s ability to meet the goals of the post-2020 global diversity framework of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), said Appolinaire Djikeng, a genomics scientist and director of the Center for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute. He’s one of the AfricaBP promoters.

The need to understand Africa’s rich biodiversity is long overdue, says ThankGod Ebenezer, a bioinformatician at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) in the United Kingdom who is involved in the AfricaBP. To date, sequencing done in Africa by Africans has been miniscule, he said.

Africa can build capacity and expertise in genome sequencing analysis, as demonstrated by projects such as the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) consortium, Ebenezer said. However, Africa has lagged in sequencing its indigenous species for the benefit of its people.

The genome is the heart of any living organism, holding the codes that dictate its appearance and much of its behavior, for instance. Sequencing enables the decoding of each organism to explore biodiversity.

“The main driver here is the rich biodiversity that we have in Africa, either in the plant community or animal community and also in the microbes,” Djikeng said.

Biodiversity hotspots

Africa is home to eight of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and the Congo Basin rainforest, which alone accounts for 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Biodiversity hotspots are areas identified to have the most biologically rich places on earth, according to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Prof. Appolinaire Djikeng, director of the Center for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at the University of Edinburgh. Credit: Maverick Photo Agency

Climate change will exacerbate the effects of previous threats to biodiversity with Africa one of the regions likely to be among the most affected, according to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The project is driven by the urgency to widen access and benefit sharing of biological resources across Africa, Ebenezer said. Various international agencies and agreements share that objective.

The United Nations Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing advocates for the fair and equitable sharing of genetic resources, while the new Global Framework for Managing Nature through 2030 identifies safeguarding the genetic diversity of wild and domesticated species and saving at least 90 percent of their genetic diversity as one of 10 milestones.

Djikeng described the Africa Biogenome Project as a long-term ambitious vision for Africa to complete the genome sequencing of different species.

“It will not happen today or tomorrow. It’s a long-term vision but we hope that along the way we will build genomic education in Africa for us to appreciate the importance of this discipline,” Djikeng said.

The project will harness genomic information for diagnostics and accelerating plant and animal breeding, in addition to building the infrastructure and ecosystem for genomic science in Africa to benefit the local communities that are custodians of the unique species, he added.

Playing catch up

Globally, some 3,000 animal and 800 plant genomes have been sequenced. Yet only 20 of the plants are African species, even though the continent has 45,000 species of plants, second to South America. Of the 20, none were sequenced in Africa, Ebenezer noted. Similarly, only 300 of the animals are from Africa and just 11 were sequenced on the continent.

“We are not where we should be,” observed Djikeng, who has sequenced numerous genomes, including that of a pathogen that causes sleeping sickness in people and animals.

“Past genome projects have looked at plant species which are indigenous to Africa, but that sequencing was done in the USA or Europe,” Djikeng said. “We have some sequencing platforms and labs across the African continent but we have not built what comes next for the data to be analyzed within Africa. For other scientific questions to be posed and answered within Africa we still rely heavily on Europe, North America and other places to run our genomics ambition.”

fpls g
Modern plant breeding combines rapid phenotyping, genomics and environmental factors to speed up genetic gains. Credit: Crossa et. al

“We have missed out, but recent examples show that we can catch up. If you look at COVID and Ebola, very well established genomic scientists in Africa have saved the day,” Djikeng said, citing the work of Prof. Túlio de Oliveira in South Africa, Dr. Samuel Oyola in Kenya and Prof. Christian Hapi in Nigeria. About 70 percent of Africa’s genomic sequencing capacity is concentrated in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt.

A billion-dollar vision

The AfricaBP will be implemented over a decade and researchers  calculate that it will require funding of about $100 million  per year. It will convene 55 African researchers and policy makers from genomics, bioinformatics, biodiversity and agriculture — 11 for each of the Africa Union’s geographical region, according to a  paper  published in  Nature in March 2022.

The $1 billion will come from governments, industry and bilateral funders, Djikeng explained. African universities already involved in genomic science are interested in the project.

The Africa Union is also excited about the project, Djikeng said. The AU sees the project delivering on its Agenda 2063, which recognizes science, technology and innovation as the major drivers and enablers for achieving AU and member state development goals.

Credit: NEPAD

To further support the project, the AfricaBP Open Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics has been created as a knowledge exchange platform for the delivery of capacity, training and for industry people who want to connect with genomics experts across Africa. The transfer of material is a key policy issue, Ebenezer noted.

Busani Bafana is a multiple award-winning correspondent based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe with over 10 years of experience, specializing in environmental and business journalism and online reporting.

A version of this article was originally posted at the Cornell Alliance for Science and is reposted here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly

The biotechnology revolution in biomedicine, farming, and gene drives to eradicate pests has yielded enormous benefits, but future success is not assured. It is easier than ever for advocacy groups to spread disinformation on pressing science issues or for corporations to ‘capture’ innovation for its own benefit. To inform the public about what’s really going on, we present the facts and challenge those who don’t. We can’t do this without your help. Please support us – a donation of as little as $10 a month helps support our vital myth-challenging efforts.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


We recommend

  1. Fighting malnutrition in Africa by sequencing genomes of traditional food plantsRachel Ceranansky, Genetic Literacy Project, 2016
  2. African researchers use gene editing and other tools to breed heartier livestock | Genetic Literacy ProjectVerenardo Meeme et al., Genetic Literacy Project
  3. African researchers use gene editing and other tools to breed heartier livestockVerenardo Meeme, Genetic Literacy Project, 2021
  4. The A – Z of anti-GM activists in AfricaUchechi Moses et al., Genetic Literacy Project, 2021
  5. Gene-edited disease-resistant animals could reduce poverty in Africa’s most vulnerable communities | Genetic Literacy ProjectPallab Ghosh et al., Genetic Literacy Project
  1. 54gene Leads Consortium to Sequence 100K Nigerian Genomes, Plans to Expand Continent-WideForest Ray, GenomeWeb, 2022
  2. A role for barcoding in the study of African fish diversity and conservation : review articleE.R. Swartz et al., South African Journal of Science, 2008
  3. Genomes arisingElizabeth Pennisi, Science, 2021
  4. Ethical Guidelines for Genomic Research in AfricaM.J. Friedrich, Journal of American Medical Association, 2018
  5. Check out this biologic’s continuous safety data spanning a decade in patients with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.Sponsored by Amgen

Read Full Post »

Monarch butterfly populations are thriving in North America

Summer numbers have remained stable for 25 years despite dire warningsPeer-Reviewed Publication


PrintEmail App

Monarch butterflies

For years, scientists have warned that monarch butterflies are dying off in droves because of diminishing winter colonies. But new research from the University of Georgia shows that the summer population of monarchs has remained relatively stable over the past 25 years.  

Published in Global Change Biology, the study suggests that population growth during the summer compensates for butterfly losses due to migration, winter weather and changing environmental factors.  

“There’s this perception out there that monarch populations are in dire trouble, but we found that’s not at all the case,” said Andy Davis, corresponding author of the study and an assistant research scientist in UGA’s Odum School of Ecology. “It goes against what everyone thinks, but we found that they’re doing quite well. In fact, monarchs are actually one of the most widespread butterflies in North America.” 

The study authors caution against becoming complacent, though, because rising global temperatures may bring new and growing threats not just to monarchs but to all insects. 

“There are some once widespread butterfly species that now are in trouble,” said William Snyder, co-author of the paper and a professor in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “So much attention is being paid to monarchs instead, and they seem to be in pretty good shape overall. It seems like a missed opportunity. We don’t want to give the idea that insect conservation isn’t important because it is. It’s just that maybe this one particular insect isn’t in nearly as much trouble as we thought.” 

This study represents the largest and most comprehensive assessment of breeding monarch butterfly population to date. 

The researchers compiled more than 135,000 monarch observations from the North American Butterfly Association between 1993 and 2018 to examine population patterns and possible drivers of population changes, such as precipitation and widespread use of agricultural herbicides.  

The North American Butterfly Association utilizes citizen-scientists to document butterfly species and counts across North America during a two-day period every summer. Each group of observers has a defined circle to patrol that spans about 15 miles in diameter, and the observers tally all butterflies they see, including monarchs. 

By carefully examining the monarch observations, the team found an overall annual increase in monarch relative abundance of 1.36% per year, suggesting that the breeding population of monarchs in North America is not declining on average. Although wintering populations in Mexico have seen documented declines in past years, the findings suggest that the butterflies’ summer breeding in North America makes up for those losses. 

That marathon race to Mexico or California each fall, Davis said, may be getting more difficult for the butterflies as they face traffic, bad weather and more obstacles along the way south. So fewer butterflies are reaching the finish line.

“But when they come back north in the spring, they can really compensate for those losses,” Davis said. “A single female can lay 500 eggs, so they’re capable of rebounding tremendously, given the right resources. What that means is that the winter colony declines are almost like a red herring. They’re not really representative of the entire species’ population, and they’re kind of misleading. Even the recent increase in winter colony sizes in Mexico isn’t as important as some would like to think.”

Changing monarch migration patterns 

One concern for conservationists has been the supposed national decline in milkweed, the sole food source for monarch caterpillars. But Davis believes this study suggests that breeding monarchs already have all the habitat they need in North America. If they didn’t, Davis said, the researchers would have seen that in this data.

“Everybody thinks monarch habitat is being lost left and right, and for some insect species this might be true but not for monarchs,” Davis said. If you think about it, monarch habitat is people habitat. Monarchs are really good at utilizing the landscapes we’ve created for ourselves. Backyard gardens, pastures, roadsides, ditches, old fields—all of that is monarch habitat.”

In some parts of the U.S., monarchs have a year-round or nearly year-round presence, which leads some researchers to believe the insects may in part be moving away from the annual migration to Mexico. San Francisco, for example, hosts monarchs year-round because people plant non-native tropical milkweed. And Florida is experiencing fewer freezes each year, making its climate an alternative for monarchs that would normally head across the border. 

“There’s this idea out there about an insect apocalypse—all the insects are going to be lost,” said Snyder. “But it’s just not that simple. Some insects probably are going to be harmed; some insects are going to benefit. You really have to take that big pig picture at a more continental scale over a relatively long time period to get the true picture of what’s happening.” 

The study was funded by grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  

The paper was co-authored by Timothy Meehan, of the National Audubon Society; Matthew Moran, of Hendrix College; and Jeffrey Glassberg, of Rice University and the North American Butterfly Association. Michael Crossley, who worked on the study as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Entomology and is now at the University of Delaware, is first author of the paper. 

Note to editors: Video footage of monarch butterflies is available at the following link https://www.dropbox.com/s/qrv6of01skeibi7/Monarch_B_Roll.mp4?dl=0

Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Global Change Biology


Opposing global change drivers counterbalance trends in breeding North American monarch butterflies



Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »