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By: Rohit Girotra

August 08, 2017

Listen for a flutter of wings

butterfly 1

The Bangalore Butterfly Club has rediscovered many species including one that was believed to have been extinct for the past 120 years

Can you recollect how many species of butterflies you have seen? Two? Three probably 10? Can you believe there are 175 species of butterflies in Bangalore. The common butterflies that can be sighted are Common Emigrant, Common Grass Yellow, Common Crow, Common leopard, Pioneer and Lemon Pansy. Thanks to Bengaluru’s temperate climate we have diverse plants, which in turn supports butterfly diversity too.

Ashok Sengupta, Haneesh KM, Nitin Ravikanthachari and Rohit Girotra formed the Bangalore Butterfly Club in 2012 to share information on butterflies. We were in touch over email and social media and would regularly trade information. However, we were working as individuals. Things took a turn when Krushnamegh Kunte of National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) moved to Bengaluru from Boston. He mooted the idea of citizen science in the butterfly domain and the important role it could play in a better understanding of butterflies in India.

butterfly 2

With all this activity, a need for a cohesive platform to talk about and share information on butterflies of Karnataka was felt. The social media explosion came as a blessing. Ashok started the BBC Facebook group and Nitin started the BBC WhatsApp group.

This group has been responsible in rediscovering many species of butterflies in Bangalore. In 2012, the Lilac Silverline, which was thought to be extinct, was rediscovered, after a gap of nearly 120 years, near Hessarghatta lake in Bengaluru. Nitin Ravikanthachari made the discovery. In the six years since this club was formed, 23 new species have been added to the The Bangalore Butterfly list compiled by Karthikeyan Srinivasan. The club wishes to educate and inform citizens of the importance of these beautiful insects. From a team of four, BBC today boasts of more than 400 members.

Along with creating awareness about the butterflies of Karnataka via social media platforms, BBC also conducts field walks to educate members and newcomers about butterflies, collect information, and collaborate with the forest department in conducting surveys, workshops, and other conservation related activities.

butterfly 3

The club organises fortnightly walks and counts at Doresanipalya Research Station Campus, Bangalore University, Hennur Forest, and Hessarghatta Lake. The other butterfly hotspots include Camp Gee Dee (in Shivanahalli), Valley School grounds (on Kanakapura road), and Savandurga.

On a three-hour walk in any of the hotspots, one can easily see around 40 to 50 species of butterflies. This number varies depending on the seasons. Post-monsoon is usually a great time to see more number of species. A typical butterfly walk starts at 9 am and is attended on an average by 10-15 people. We encourage people to join these walks to interact with the experts and see the butterflies in nature. The walks are free of charge and all you need to bring along is your enthusiasm.

butterfly 4

Most of the members contribute photographs to the Butterflies of India initiative. This initiative is the brainchild of Kunte and is a collaborative effort by butterfly enthusiasts from all over India, to create a nation-wide, peer-reviewed database.

What we need is active participation from Bangaloreans. With more people willing to take up responsibilities, we can expand our scope. Interested folks can get in touch with BBC by dropping a mail to rohitashwa18@gmail.com to participate in fortnightly walks and the associated activities.

 

 

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News

Caterpillars turned into ‘exploding zombies’ by bug

Caterpillar skinImage copyright Dr Chris Miller
Image caption Dr Miller said he found small scraps of caterpillar skin on branches

Caterpillars are being killed by a bug which turns them into “exploding zombies”, a wildlife expert has said.

Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trust said the skins of insects have been found on Winmarleigh Moss, near Garstang.

The baculovirus drives caterpillars on a “death march” to the top of plants, then when it dies the bug bursts out to seek other victims.

The trust’s Dr Chris Miller said it was “gruesome – like a zombie horror film”.

CaterpillarImage copyright Anne Burgess
Image caption Dr Miller said it was really unusual seeing caterpillars high up

Dr Miller was carrying out a butterfly survey on Winmarleigh Moss when he noticed a caterpillar hanging from the end of a branch of a small bush.

He then saw another one hanging from a tall blade of grass.

“Both were dead but otherwise intact,” he said.

Dr Miller also noticed “small scraps of caterpillar skin” on other branches he checked.

He said research is showing that the baculovirus affects the way the “zombie” insects respond to light, “making them climb to higher and more dangerous places and when they get there they die”.

“It is really unusual seeing caterpillars high up as they can be eaten by birds.

“This is a caterpillar of the oak eggar moth which eats heather and bilberry so it is normally hidden in the undergrowth, not at the top of plants.”

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Oak eggar mothsImage copyright Alan Prics
Image caption Oak eggar moths have an “acorn-like cocoon”

Oak eggar moths

  • They are named oak eggar because of their “acorn-like cocoon”
  • They grow into reddish brown moths
  • Males fly during the day

Source: Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trust

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larval helicoverpa CSIRO
Genomes mapped for global megapests cotton bollworm and corn earworm.

Aug 01, 2017

For the first time, researchers with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have mapped the complete genome of two closely related “megapests,” potentially saving the international agricultural community billions of dollars a year.

Led by CSIRO in collaboration with a team of renowned experts, the researchers identified more than 17,000 protein coding genes in the genomes of the Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa zea, commonly known as the cotton bollworm and corn earworm, respectively).

They also documented how these genetics have changed overtime.

This level of detail makes it easier for scientists to predict weak spots in both of the caterpillars, how they will mutate and even breed plants that they will not want to eat.

The bollworm and earworm are the world’s greatest caterpillar pests of broad-acre crops, causing in excess of $5 billion (U.S.) in control costs and damage each year across Asia, Europe, Africa, America and Australia.

The bollworm, which is dominant in Australia, attacks more crops and develops much more resistance to pesticides than its earworm counterpart.

“It is the single most important pest of agriculture in the world, making it humanity’s greatest competitor for food and fiber,” CSIRO scientist Dr. John Oakeshott said. “Its genomic arsenal has allowed it to outgun all our known insecticides through the development of resistance, reflecting its name, ‘armigera,’ which means armed and warlike.”

In Brazil, the bollworm has been spreading rapidly, and there have been cases of of it hybridizing with the earworm, posing a real threat that the new and improved “superbug” could spread into the U.S.

In the mid-1990s, in an attempt to tackle the bollworm, CSIRO assisted Australian cotton breeders with incorporating Bt insect resistance genes in their varieties. Bt cotton plants dispatch an insecticide from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria that is toxic to the caterpillar. In the following 10 years, there was an 80% reduction in the use of chemical pesticides previously required to control bollworms.

However, the bollworm soon fought back: A small percentage of them built resistance to Bt cotton, and scientists introduced further strains of insecticides to manage the problem.

CSIRO health and biosecurity honorary fellow Dr. Karl Gordon said while a combination of Bt and some insecticides was working well in Australia, it can be costly, so it was important to comprehensively study the pests themselves to manage the problem worldwide.

“We need the full range of agricultural science,” Gordon said. “Our recent analyses of the complete genome, its adaptations and spread over the years are a huge step forward in combating these megapests.”

Identifying pest origins will enable resistance profiling that reflects the countries of origin to be included when developing a resistance management strategy while identifying incursion pathways will improve biosecurity protocols and risk analysis at biosecurity hot spots, including national ports, CSIRO said.

As part of the research, CSIRO and the team updated a previously developed potential distribution model to highlight the global invasion threat, with an emphasis on the risks to the U.S.

The findings further provide the first solid foundation for comparative evolutionary and functional genomic studies on related and other lepidopteran pests, many of which have considerable impact and scientific interest.

The genome project was undertaken by CSIRO in conjunction with the University of Melbourne, the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, the Max Plank Institute of Chemical Ecology in Germany and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

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CABI

Plantwise Blog

Five invasive pests cost African economy $1 billion every year

New research by CABI reveals that just five invasive alien species are causing US$0.9 – 1.1 billion in economic losses to smallholder farmers across six eastern African countries each year, equating to 1.8% – 2.2% of total agricultural GDP for the region. These losses are expected to grow to $1.0 – 1.2 billion per year over the next 5-10 years, highlighting the urgent need for coordinated responses at regional, national and international levels.

New research published in the open-access journal Global Food Security estimates the alarming level of economic losses suffered by smallholder farmers each year in eastern Africa, to a handful of species that have become damaging crop pests since their introduction to the region. These few invasive species can have devastating impacts on important staples such as maize, but also high-value crops including tomatoes, peas and green beans.

CABI researchers carried out the study to quantify the impacts of five important invasive alien species on mixed maize farming in economic terms. The countries included in the study were Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, all of which have large rural communities dependent on small-scale farming for food security and income.

Invasive alien species can have a variety of effects on farming, livestock, pastures and forests, as well as human and animal health. Accelerating global trade is increasing the rate of invasive species introduction and establishment, with developing regions some of the worst affected.

CABI invasive species expert, Dr Sean Murphy, said, “Invasive species can have a devastating impact on smallholder livelihoods, and poorly regulated trade and movement of produce can contribute to the spread and establishment of pest species. Invasive species are a growing threat to food security in Africa and the results of this study highlight the need to take action. We urgently require a coordinated response at regional, national and international levels.”

Five important invasive species

The study reports that maize, the most important staple crop in eastern Africa, is affected by several invasive species:

1.As much as $450 million is lost to smallholders each year to the spotted stem borer, Chilo partellus, a caterpillar which feeds inside the growing maize plant, reducing its yield. This pest also attacks other important crops such as sorghum. A biological control agent (Cotesia flavipes) released against this pest is playing an important role in reducing the crop losses suffered by smallholder farmers.

2. Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) is caused by a dual viral infection and leads to the production of deformed maize ears which can result in total crop loss. Current smallholder losses to this disease are estimated to be up to $339.3 million each year, but are likely to increase significantly with the ongoing spread of the disease.

3.The invasive ‘famine weed’, Parthenium hysterophorus, affects farmland and pasture, reducing production levels in a variety of crops and having human and animal health impacts. The weed is most widespread in Ethiopia, but is increasing its range in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Current smallholder losses in maize for the region are estimated to be as high as $81.9 million annually, but can be expected to rise with the ongoing march of this damaging weed.

4. Horticultural crops, often grown along with staples such as maize are valuable nutritionally, but also as cash crops that can be an important route out of poverty for smallholder growers. A number of invasive species affect horticultural crops and this study included three species of Liriomyza leaf-mining flies, which attack a variety of important crop families including ornamental plant species and vegetables. In this study, impacts on beans and peas were considered, with total annual losses up to $149.1 million. Climate change is likely to result in a range increase for damaging Liriomyza species.

5. The South American tomato leaf miner, Tuta absoluta, has had a devastating impact since its recent introduction to Africa, frequently causing total crop loss and leading to three-fold increases in tomato prices. Losses to eastern African smallholders are estimated at up to $79.4 million per year at present, but this figure is expected to grow substantially with the rapid spread of this pest.

Taking action

The CABI study clearly highlights the need to improve the outlook for smallholders in developing countries, who are resource-poor and susceptible to invasive species impacts.

Collaboration at national, regional and international levels, analysis of invasion pathways, and implementation of effective monitoring and rapid management responses to new invasive species arrivals are priority areas for follow-up to the study. Where invasive species are widespread, integrated approaches, including biological control, should be considered.

Dr Sean Murphy said, “In carrying out this research, CABI has taken the first step in highlighting the vast scale of losses being suffered by resource-poor smallholders to invasive alien species. This data illustrates that the issue is both critical and pressing. With such a large scale of economic losses to just five invasive species across six countries alone, we need to consider the big picture: a long-term invasive species management policy in Africa with full policy support is needed urgently.”

The recent invasion of Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) will add significantly to these losses as it is known to cause great damage to maize and other crops in its native range.

CABI’s global invasive species programme aims to improve the livelihoods of the 50 million poor rural households that are impacted by damaging invasive species. The programme will contribute to improved food security and trade, and will aid the protection of agricultural and natural ecosystems. See the website http://www.invasive-species.org/.

 

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theGuardian

Could ants be the solution to antibiotic crisis?

Bacterial defences of fungus-farming ants could help in medical battle against superbugs
Leaf-cutter ants
Leaf-cutter ants are among the species that use bacteria to defend their nests against invading fungi and microbes. Photograph: Tim Flach/Getty Images

Could ants be the solution to antibiotic crisis?

Bacterial defences of fungus-farming ants could help in medical battle against superbugs

Scientists have pinpointed a promising new source of antibiotics: ants. They have found that some species – including leaf-cutter ants from the Amazon – use bacteria to defend their nests against invading fungi and microbes.

Chemicals excreted by the bacteria as part of this fight have been shown to have particularly powerful antibiotic effects and researchers are now preparing to test them in animals to determine their potential as medicines for humans.

Doctors say new antibiotics are urgently needed as superbug resistance to standard antimicrobial agents spreads. More than 700,000 people globally now die of drug-resistant infections each year, it is estimated – and some health officials say this figure could be even higher.

Last week, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the first general assembly meeting on drug-resistant bacteria, said antimicrobial resistance was now a fundamental threat to global health.

This was reiterated by Professor Cameron Currie of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, one of the scientists involved in the ant research.

“Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem,” he said last week. “However, pinpointing new antibiotics using the standard technique of sampling soil for bacteria is tricky. On average, only one in a million strains proves promising. By contrast, we have uncovered a promising strain of bacteria for every 15 strains we have sampled from an ant’s nest.”

Only a very specific group of ants are proving useful in this work, however. These are species that farm fungi in tropical regions in North and South America.

“These ants forage for plant material, which they bring back to their nests and feed to a fungus,” said Professor Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School. “The fungus breaks down the plant material and the ants feed on the fungus.”

The strategy evolved around 15 million years ago, and has proved highly successful. There are now more than 200 ant species that farm fungi. Most fungus-farming ants simply forage for bits of old leaf or grass on the ground, however. A few, like leaf-cutter ants, cut leaves from trees and bring them back in pieces to their nest. “Plants are hard to digest, but fungi are good decomposers and break down plant material so ants can feed easily,” said Ethan Van Arnam, also of Harvard Medical School.

However, scientists have recently discovered that these nests are sometimes attacked by hostile fungi. “They kill off both the nest and its farmed fungus,” said Clardy. “In turn, ants have developed defences revealed as white patches on their bodies. They look as if they had been dipped in powdered sugar. These patches are made of bacteria which the ant stores on its body. Crucially, these bacteria produce powerful antibiotic and antifungal agents.”

In this way, ants nurture bacteria which in turn make antifungal and antibacterial agents that defend nests. More to the point, these bacteria are similar to the ones used by pharmaceutical companies to make antibiotics. A typical example is Apterostigma ants, whose bacterial strains have been isolated in Panama and brought back to Harvard by Van Arnam. Many show promising antibiotic activity, he told the Observer.

“The ants don’t always win,” added Clardy. “You occasionally come across nests that have been overcome by invading fungi. But it is clear ants and their bacteria put up a very good fight, one that has been going on for millions of years. The result has been the production of some very interesting antibiotics.”

Clardy said foreign bacteria also attacked the ant’s microbe defences. “The bacteria in the nests get a really good deal. They are protected and fed by ants. Other strains of bacteria want to take over that comfortable niche. It is the bacterial equivalent of Game of Thrones. Everyone is trying to kill off everyone else and get to the top. The result has been the development of some very powerful antibiotic weapons. These are the end products of an arms race that has been going on for 15 million years. Our trick is to isolate the best of these weapons and use them to make new antibiotics for humans.”

 

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Adelaide xUoA_logo_colour.jpg.pagespeed.ic.txQIeDrSY2

Article ID: 678239

Released: 21-Jul-2017 9:00 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: University of Adelaide

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    • Credit: David O’Carroll, Lund University

      Dragonfly Somatochlora flavomaculata

    Newswise — New research from Australia and Sweden has shown how a dragonfly’s brain anticipates the movement of its prey, enabling it to hunt successfully. This knowledge could lead to innovations in fields such as robot vision.

    An article published today in the journal eLife by researchers at the University of Adelaide and Lund University has offered more insights into the complexity of brain processing in dragonflies than has previously been understood.

    “Until now, the international research community has primarily considered the capabilities of mammals, such as humans, for investigating how animals can predict where a moving object will be in the near future,” says project partner Dr Steven Wiederman from the University of Adelaide’s Adelaide Medical School.

    “Understandably, mammals in many ways are more complex organisms than insects, but with each discovery we’re finding that dragonflies have keen visual and neural processes that could be ideal for translating into technological advances,” he says.

    The Swedish-Australian collaboration resulted in the discovery of brain cells (neurons) in the dragonfly Hemicordulia that enables them to predictively pursue and catch their flying prey. These neurons make it possible to focus on a small object that moves over a complex background, similarly to how humans can track and catch a ball, even when that ball is moving against the backdrop of a cheering crowd.

    Professor David O’Carroll, Professor of Biology at Lund University, says: “The dragonfly neurons can make a selection of a single target from the mass of visual information that the brain receives, such as the motion of another insect, and then predict its direction and future location. The dragonfly, like humans, makes this assessment based on the path along which the object moves.

    “In other words, the dragonfly does something very similar to what we do when we track a ball in motion. Despite major differences in the complexity of the brain, evolution has led to the insect using its brain for advanced visual processes that are usually only considered in mammals.”

    University of Adelaide PhD student Joseph Fabian and other team members were able to record target-detecting neurons in the dragonfly brain. These neurons increased their responses in a small ‘focus’ area just in front of the location of a moving object being tracked. If the object then disappeared from the field of vision, the focus spread forward over time, allowing the brain to predict where the target was most likely to reappear. The neuronal prediction was based on the previous path along which the prey had flown.

    “This is an exciting discovery, and it aids our understanding of how single neurons make advanced predictions based on past history,” Dr Wiederman says.

    “Our team is convinced that these results will have practical applications, especially in the development of artificial control and vision systems, such as self-steering vehicles and bionic vision.”

    This project is an international collaboration funded by the Swedish Research Council, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and STINT, the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education.

    Media Contact:

    Dr Steven Wiederman
    ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher
    Adelaide Medical School
    The University of Adelaide
    steven.wiederman@adelaide.edu.au

    SEE ORIGINAL STUDY

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