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Pesticides spark broad biodiversity loss
Pesticide use can reduce the biodiversity of insects such as the emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator).
Agricultural pesticides have been linked to widespread invertebrate biodiversity loss in two new research papers.
Pesticide use has sharply reduced the regional biodiversity of stream invertebrates, such as mayflies and dragonflies, in Europe and Australia, finds a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Previous research has shown similar decreases in individual streams, but the study by Mikhail Beketov, an aquatic ecologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues analysed the effects of pesticides over broad regions.
The team examined 23 streams in the central plains of Germany, 16 in the western plains of France and 24 in southern Victoria, Australia. They classified streams according to three different levels of pesticide contamination: uncontaminated, slightly contaminated and highly contaminated.
The researchers found that there were up to 42% fewer species in highly contaminated than in uncontaminated streams in Europe. Highly contaminated streams in Australia showed a decrease in the number of invertebrate families by up to 27% when contrasted with uncontaminated streams.
Moreover, the authors say that diversity decreased at pesticide concentrations that European regulations deem environmentally protective. “It shows our risk assessments don’t work,” says Beketov. “I think we should care about this because invertebrates are an important part of the food web.”
Emma Rosi-Marshall, an aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, says that she finds the results compelling. “We are at a crisis point, with species loss on a global scale, especially in freshwater ecosystems. Considering pesticides along with other known threats to biodiversity may be crucial for halting species declines,” she says.
But toxicologist Keith Solomon of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, says he has concerns about the study’s sample size. “It begs the question as to what is happening in all the other streams out there,” he says. “If these streams are representative of the worst case, then the effects may only be confined to these types of scenarios and not apply to the entire environment.”
The second paper, from biologist Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, UK, reviews the environmental risk posed by neonicotinoid insecticides. Its publication on 14 June in The Journal of Applied Ecology comes soon after the European Commission’s April announcement of a two-year ban on three commonly used neonicotinoids over concerns that they are killing bees.
Goulson’s work includes data from agrichemical companies and suggests that neonicotinoids accumulate in soil at levels that can kill soil invertebrates such as Eisenia foetida, a type of earthworm.
“The bulk of these studies suggest the half-life of these chemicals is between one and four years,” he says. “If you apply these chemicals once a year on crops, they will accumulate.”
Goulson’s review also cites earlier studies suggesting that grain-eating birds such as partridges may be dying after eating as few as five seeds treated with neonicotinoids. The insecticide is most often applied as a seed dressing to crops such as maize and soya beans. “The very strong focus on bees has perhaps blinded people to the broader implications,” Goulson says.
Both papers demonstrate the importance of conducting ecosystem assessments after pesticide use, says ecotoxicologist Ken Drouillard of the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. “We can’t think our job is done after the [pre-application] risk assessment,” he says. “Unfortunately during a global economic crisis, budget cuts come at the cost of ecosystem health monitoring.”
Richmond.com : Why Richmond, Why?!? Helicopters, Drinking in the James and More
It’s summer, its hot and its a great time to catch up on the hard-hitting reader questions.
Why does the main DMV on Broad St. have a helicopter pad behind the building? – D.R.
I’ve noticed that before and not wondered why it was there, but it seems odd now that you mention it. I hope it wasn’t built so Dan Snyder (super-rich owner of the Washington Redskins) could drop in to check out the new Redskins Training Center being built across the street.
“The helipad behind DMV headquarters on Broad Street serves as a landing area for the Commonwealth of Virginia and is the only landing area in Richmond not dedicated to medical use,” according to Sunni Brown Blevins, public relations and media liaison with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (yes, she used to be a reporter and anchor for NBC12). She said the helipad has been around since the late 1980s, so we can’t pin that on favoritism for the Redskins.
“With Richmond being the capital of Virginia, you can imagine lots of folks have used it for a variety of reasons over the years including the President of the United States and the Governor of Virginia. The landing area also serves as a backup for VCU Medical Center,” she said.
Why is it illegal to drink beer if you are sitting in the James River and not on land (city property)? – C.K.
OK, this is similar to a question brought up in a recent Why Richmond, Why?!? column pointing out the the river itself isn’t owned by the City of Richmond. Sitting in the James isn’t the same as being 12 miles off the coast of the United States in international waters or even like the theoretical escape from police by driving over a city/county/state line. You’re still in the park and you are still in the city. People have to follow the same laws and rules that apply in that locality, even when they are in the water. Not to spoil all the fun, but that goes for doing/selling drugs, getting naked, having sex, committing crimes and pretty much anything else you shouldn’t do when you are on land.
I saw today, and have seen at other times, people walking around in the Fan, around the Museum District, with blindfolds on and using white canes. I saw them this morning around 9am at around Grove and Hanover. They are clearly not blind. What are they doing? – S.B.
I’ve seen those folks as well and my friend Nathan Cushing at RVA News did a wonderful story on that recently. Those are students from the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired developing skills in blindness and developing confidence in those skills, according to the article.
Why does Richmond purchase and plant extremely small trees with tree gators? I appreciate the effort in planting the trees but what is the purpose of the tree gators ($20) if no one ever puts water in them. I live in Richmond but I work in Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg has a truck that does nothing but drive around the city filling these water bags. What does the city of Richmond have? Do they subcontract this out? I see lots of bags and lots of trees but in my 7 years living in the city I have rarely seen any of these bags filled with water. If the bags aren’t being utilized why not use that money to buy larger trees? – B.W.
Thank you for asking. I love trees and I included this one because I enjoyed the rant, but also wanted to give credit to Richmond Tree Stewards, who dedicate so much time to care for the city’s trees. “Tree Stewards work closely with Urban Forestry and with other organizations interested in the health of our community forest,” according to their website. They are the cheerleaders behind having citizens act as the backup to the City of Richmond when it comes to watering trees. Anybody interested in volunteering to help should start with the Tree Stewards.
How to inspect your trees before the storm
Assessing the state of your trees at home
Steve Counts, assistant fire chief for operations at Virginia Department of Forestry
WASHINGTON – Ahead of severe weather, homeowners need to take stock of the trees around their house and along their commuting route.
Many old or damaged trees were knocked out this time last year when the derecho and its straight-line winds hit the Washington area.
Steve Counts, assistant fire chief for operations at Virginia Department of Forestry, offers homeowners a list of what to look for around their home before the storm arrives.
At home tree survey:
- Look around your property for any damage, loose obviously broken or exposed roots near tree trunks.
- Look for any leaning trees, or any broken limbs above you, in the canopy, that might be caught hanging on another tree limb.
- Look for any loose soil around the base of the tree for any raised ridges or exposed roots.
- Remove furniture or vehicles away from these areas to prevent them from being thrown into trees, or being damaged by falling debris.
As far as the state of the canopy, Counts says it’s the trees planted without company that are at the highest risk.
“Enclosed in the canopy itself, those trees tend to protect one another. Where you see a lot of the damage is along exposed roadways or individual trees that a homeowner might have near their residence,” Counts says.
They see the full weight of the storm from every angle.
He also suggests looking for potential problems on your drive home.
“If they know there’s damage in that area, try a different way home (during the storm.)
He suggests to be observant as you travel in and out of your neighborhood and plan to either address the hanging or dangerous limbs or avoid the area to stay safe.
© 2013 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.
Bee-killing pesticide companies are pretending to save bees
by John Upton | 12 Jun 2013 5:52 PM
Even as bees drop dead around the world after sucking down pesticide-laced nectar, pesticide makers are touting their investments in bee research.
Nearly a third of commercial honeybee colonies in U.S. were wiped out last year, for a complicated array of reasons, scientists say: disease, stress, poor nutrition, mite infestations, and — yes — pesticides. Neonicotinoid pesticides seem to be particularly damaging to bees, so much so that the European Union is moving to ban them (but the U.S. is not).
Now the two main manufacturers of neonicotinoids, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, are promoting their commitments to bee health, as is agro-giant Monsanto. From a feature story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
Monsanto Co., which two years ago bought an Israeli bee research company, hosts an industry conference on bee health at its headquarters in Creve Coeur this month. Bayer CropScience is building a 5,500-square-foot “bee health center” in North Carolina, and with fellow chemical giant, Syngenta, has developed a “comprehensive action plan” for bee health.
“The beekeeping industry has always crawled on its hands and knees to USDA and universities, begging for help,” said Jerry Hayes, a bee industry veteran recently hired by Monsanto to run its bee research efforts. “Now we have this very large company involved that knows how important bees are to agriculture.”
With a very large company involved, the bees are as good as saved, right?
Not surprisingly, the industry is downplaying the role of insecticides in bee deaths.
For example, Iain Kelly of Bayer CropScience does a suspiciously incomplete job of explaining the scary plight of bees during an interview with North Carolina Public Radio about the company’s new bee research center:
Kelly … says other insects and diseases are invading much of the bee’s natural habitat.
“They have real problems now with pests and pathogens, including viruses and fungal diseases,” Kelly says.
“We’ve lost a lot of the natural foliage for them as well, which is a big concern to beekeepers.”
Yeah, we know, this is a multi-faceted problem. But what about the pesticides? More on that from the Post-Dispatch:
Published last year, a study by Purdue University found that dead bees that had foraged in and around corn fields contained high levels of neonicotinoid compounds. The study was prompted by massive bee die-offs that happened in the spring, when corn planters were spewing neonicotinoid-containing dust.
“I know, definitively, that there’s a relationship between treated seed and spring die-offs,” said Christian Krupke, the study’s lead author. “It (neonicotinoids) blows out behind the planter and gets in the air, it lands on dandelions. It lands on the bees, even.”
While Krupke says there’s no direct link between neonicotinoids and Colony Collapse Disorder, he said, “anything that’s a stressor to bees is a concern now. We know they’re weaker because of it.”
The industry, however, flatly denies any link between bee health and the neonicotinoids it produces.
“There’s no scientific evidence linking neonics with bee health — period,” said Dave Fischer, director of environmental toxicity and risk assessment at Bayer CropScience.
Perhaps pesticide makers are hoping their happy PR buzz will distract us from the missing buzz of these critical pollinators.
John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who johnupton.
Also in Grist
Pesticides cause cancer, pesticides don’t cause cancer. Pesticides cause cancer, pesticides don’t cause cancer.
What is it… No one really knows.
Cancer Rates Low Among Pesticide Workers
If chemical exposures are a significant cause of cancer, as some environmentalists say, you’d expect that individuals who apply pesticides for a living would have higher cancer rates. But a recent study conducted by the U.K.-based Health and Safety Laboratory indicates, that’s not the case—at least not for pesticide workers. The study looked at mortality among 59,085 male and 3,875 female commercial pesticide applicators, and found 1,628 deaths within this group between the years of 1987-2005.
They found no evidence that these workers suffered from any more cancer than the general population. Instead, they found less cancer. Here’s the summary:
All cause[s of] mortality was substantially lower among the pesticide users than in the general population (standardised mortality ratio (SMR) 0.58, 95% CI 0.55-0.61), as was mortality for a number of the major disease groups:
All cancers combined (SMR 0.72, 95% CI 0.66-0.78),
- Cancers of the lip, oral cavity and pharynx (SMR 0.18, 95% CI 0.07-0.48),
- Cancers of the digestive organs (SMR 0.78, 95% CI 0.68-0.90),
- Cancers of the respiratory system (SMR 0.55, 95% CI 0.46-0.65),
- Non-malignant diseases of the nervous system and sense organs (SMR 0.39, 95% CI 0.27-0.57),
- Non-malignant diseases of the circulatory system (SMR 0.58, 95% CI 0.520.63)
- Non-malignant diseases of the respiratory system (SMR 0.39, 95% CI 0.310.49)
- Non-malignant diseases of the digestive system (SMR 0.24, 95% CI 0.18-0.32)
Does this mean that working in the pesticide industry reduces your cancer risks? Not really, but it does raise questions about activist claims about cancer risks posed by pesticides, particularly when they suggest that consumers, who have much lower exposures than workers, face substantial risks.
The authors also do note that there “some evidence of excess deaths from multiple myeloma in men and women, and possibly also from testicular cancer.” This is the type of stuff greens might jump on while ignoring the key findings of this study. However, the authors explain that these involved “relatively small numbers of deaths” with “mostly wide confidence intervals and statistical non-significance,” which means “these need to be interpreted with caution.” “With the limited data available, it was not possible to investigate whether these were linked with particular jobs, working practices or pesticides,” the authors also noted.
In other words, there’s little evidence that pesticides are a significant cause of cancer even among some of the most exposed populations. There is plenty evidence, on the other hand, that these products serve important public health and agricultural values.
This guy was pretty badass.
Wilfred E. Cutshaw
Born in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, Cutshaw studied engineering at the Virginia Military Institute, graduating in 1858. The Colonel, a veteran of the Confederate Army, returned to the institute to practice civil engineering and teach math, physics, and civil and military engineering while he recovered from the loss of his leg during the Civil War. He was appointed Richmond City Engineer in 1873, in part the result of a letter of recommendation penned by Robert E. Lee.
Cutshaw was responsible for Richmond’s public works, city buildings, and civic grounds during Reconstruction. A tireless advocate for the public realm, he studied larger east coast and European cities for inspiration in park design and architecture. He provided Richmond with its first public parks and squares, a park system master plan, and tree-lined streets and boulevards. Committed to urban forestry, Cutshaw established a city tree nursery that yielded 50,000 trees during his tenure. His landscape contributions reflect his interest in the City Beautiful movement and include picturesque parks, grand avenues, monuments, and curvilinear carriage drives. He was interred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond upon his death.
What’s Out There Virginia Takes Off
The gardens at Morven near Charlottesville, designed in part by Annette Hoyt Flanders. Photo by Brian C. Flynn.
In June, The Cultural Landscape Foundation began work on an exciting new initiative, What’s Out There Virginia, which will add at least 100 new landscapes to the foundation’s What’s Out There (WOT) database of America’s designed landscapes.
Hollywood Cemetery and One James River Plaza, both in Richmond,
reflect the city’s diverse landscape heritage that WOT Virginia will
document. The program is supported in part by a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Art Works program, with matching funds from the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Architecture’s Sara Shallenberger Brown Cultural Landscape Initiative. The project is being conducted in partnership with faculty and students from the landscape architecture programs at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and UVA.
WOT Virginia will engage students directly in the project by hiring them for full or part time work during the summer, spring and fall semesters to identify landscapes and research and write about them. “The What’s Out There Virginia project will create more than an inventory of the Commonwealth’s historically significant designed landscapes–from Colonial gardens to modern parkways. It will become an important tool for preserving, planning, designing and managing Virginia’s rich cultural landscape heritage. We look forward to this new and exciting collaboration with The Cultural Landscape Foundation,” said Elizabeth K. Meyer, Associate Professor, Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Faculty Chair of Regenerate. The Design, Preservation and Sustainability Collaborative, UVA School of Architecture. WOT Virginia is the second state-specific initiative TCLF has begun and follows the addition of more than 150 Maine sites in 2012, an NEA funded project done with the Maine Historical Society. TCLF has also started What’s Out There Texas, working with Texas’ four university-level landscape architecture programs.
The garden of the Benjamin Powell House in Williamsburg, one
of numerous Colonial Revival landscapes in What’s Out There.
Image courtesy Colonial WIlliamsburg.An important part of these efforts to increase What’s Out There content across a given state is the partnerships TCLF is establishing with local landscape and preservation-oriented non-profits and state agencies. In Virginia, staff and volunteers with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Scenic Virginia, Virginia Chapter of the ASLA, and other groups are all on board to help identify sites and resources and act as mentors for the students. Once the material is posted and complete, it will provide an invaluable resource for a wide range of users, from students to local residents to tourists interested in landscapes and the cultural history of Virginia. And, TCLF has just completed optimization of WOT for smartphones and other handheld devices, making the content more widely available to all audiences.
Do you have thoughts or suggestions for Virginia sites or other useful resources? Contact Courtney Spearman to share your ideas.