Diesel Fumes Throw Honey Bees Off the Scent
Stuart V. Nielsen
The cocoa frog is one of six new frog species that were recently found in a rainforest-dominated mountainous region of southeastern Suriname. “At a time when so many frog species are declining and undergoing extinctions worldwide, it is particularly uplifting to discover so many new frogs in a single area,” Trond Larsen, a tropical ecologist and director of the Rapid Assessment Program at Conservation International, told Discovery News. He and his team found about 60 new species in the South American country.
The tiny Lilliputian beetle measures just 2.3 mm long and could be the smallest dung beetle in the entire Guiana Shield and among the smallest in the world. “Dung beetles act as a cleanup crew in the forest,” Larsen said. “By burying dung, they not only control parasites and disease, including those that affect people, but also disperse seeds and recycle nutrients that enable forest regeneration.”
Leeanne Alonso, director of Global Biodiversity Exploration for Global Wildlife Conservation, went on the expedition with Larsen. She thinks this beetle might be small and red to look like a seed stuck in poo, thereby fooling predators. “Dung beetles in forest areas are a good indicator of mammal diversity,” she added. Without mammals providing their food source, there would be few such insects.
Stuart V. Nielsen
The collection of new animals includes 11 species of fish that are probably new to science. “Small, brightly-colored tetras similar to this one are popular in the aquarium trade, and sustainable exports of wild species could provide financial support to local communities and incentives to conserve the species’ natural habitat,” Larsen said.
Alonso added that, as new species go, fish are relatively rare. “It’s amazing that so many were found in this region, which I believe has the world’s best and most beautiful and pristine forests in the world.” She loved it so much that she took her family there on a vacation after the research work ended.
Bats are another “good indicator of habitat quality,” Alonso said. She explained that, in this case, the bat thrives on fruit, so the region must support plenty of healthy fruit-producing trees.
Genuine coral snakes are highly venomous, but this false coral snake’s name is itself somewhat misleading, as the researchers found out the hard way. Alonso said that a helicopter pilot transporting the scientists was bitten by one. “His arm really swelled up,” she said, explaining that all such snakes have sharp teeth and venom, just not as poisonous as the “real” coral snake this species resembles.
This extraordinary new insect displays waxy fronds at the end of its body that was built for jumping among plants. “Maybe the fronds are meant to resemble anthers of a flower, helping with camouflage?” Alonso said, admitting that nature sometimes works in still-mysterious ways. She continued, “So little is known about insects from this region, so this was a real find.”
Top-level predatory big cats, such as this margay, are yet another sign of healthy habitat. More of them generally means there are more prey animals to feast upon. “Margays love to sleep and hide in caves at the site,” Alonso added.
Six new katydids, including this one, were discovered. Larsen described it as a “gangly species with oversized, spiny hind legs.” The newly discovered katydids "are indicative of the pristine, healthy forests of the Upper Palumeu Watershed," Larsen said, "and the forests in turn help to ensure continued flows of clean, plentiful water used by people throughout the rest of the country.”
“Despite their generally diminutive size, water beetles can be useful indicators of water quality, and also help to filter and keep water clean,” Larsen said. “Many of the 26 new water beetle species discovered on this survey are probably restricted to isolated habitats, especially in the mountains of southeastern Suriname, and may occur nowhere else.”
Sandra J. Raredon
Eleven new fish species were found in the region, dubbed a "tropical Eden" by the researchers. Larsen said, “This new sucker-mouthed armored catfish was rare, and only encountered in the narrow, upper reaches of the Palumeu River.
“This delicate slender opossum is really cute,” Alonso said. “It’s hard to find small mammals like this, which are indicative of primary forest.”
is the largest of all South American dung beetles, Larsen shares. Despite its name, this species feeds more frequently on dead animals than on dung. A highly unusual case in the Animal Kingdom, both males and females of this species possess a long horn on their head, which they use during intense battles with other individuals of the same sex. The vast difference in adult body size seen here is primarily determined by how much food was available to the developing larva. This species is capable of rapidly burying large animal carcasses, providing an important ecological service that sustains rain forest health.
“Given the beautiful coloration, high visibility and popularity of frogs in the poison dart frog family (Dendrobatidae), most species in this group are relatively well known,” Larsen said. “Therefore, the discovery of this species potentially new to science is particularly exciting. The toxic secretions of poison dart frogs hold great potential to yield new medicines that could greatly benefit the world -- yet with frogs declining globally, their protection in the wild is essential.”
The researchers could have just scratched the new species surface in southeastern Suriname, given that other animals, fish, insects and more unknown to science could be found there. The region’s human population is currently small -- only about 500,000 -- but it’s growing and there is a threat of future habitat-destroying activities, such as mining and logging. Alonso hopes that the wilderness can be protected, with money-generating activities such as ecotourism allowing both humans and amimals to thrive there.
Diesel pollution snuffs out floral odors, interfering with honeybees' ability to find and pollinate flowers, new research suggests.
Honeybees use both visual and olfactory cues to recognize flowers that produce nectar in return for insect pollination. Not all flowers produce nectar, and bees avoid those that don't by learning to recognize the odors of nectar-bearing flowers.
But these floral odors — which consist of reactive chemicals called volatiles — react with other substances in the atmosphere; in the presence of certain pollutants, these scents can chemically transform into undetectable forms, researchers from the University of Southampton report today (Oct. 3) in the journal Scientific Reports. [On the Hunt: Honeybee Scouts Find Food]
The researchers specifically explored whether nitrogen oxides — a group of highly reactive gases released by diesel combustion — are capable of altering floral odors to an extent that would dampen a bee's ability to recognize desirable flowers.
So the scientists produced a synthetic floral odor from a blend of eight volatiles that closely matched those found in oilseed rape flowers. They released the smell into a series of glass containers, and exposed some but not all of the containers to different concentrations of nitrogen oxide gases, leaving others uncontaminated.
Over the course of two hours, the researchers measured the concentrations of the eight volatile compounds under the various conditions.
Within a minute, two volatiles that together accounted for more than 70 percent of the floral odor became completely undetectable within contaminated chambers, but remained detectable in uncontaminated chambers, the team reports.
The researchers also conditioned a group of honeybees to recognize the synthetic floral odor by repeatedly exposing them to it in conjunction with a nectar reward. The team then introduced the bee groups into the test chambers to determine how the contamination affected smell recognition, which they gauged based on whether the bees extended their proboscis — the strawlike mouthpart they use to suck up nectar — within 10 seconds of exposure to the odor in the study chambers. If the bee did not extend its proboscis, then it was presumed to have lost the ability to recognize the smell.
Dhruvaraj S, Wikimedia Commons
The team found that bees were much less likely to extend their proboscis within 10 seconds in the contaminated chamber than the uncontaminated chamber.
"A bee has far poorer recognition of an altered floral mix," said study co-author Tracey Newman. "The bee needs to learn the unadulterated version, and if the bee has learned it, it will then struggle with the version that has been chemically altered."
Though the researchers focused on the effects of nitrogen oxide gases on floral odors, other highly reactive contaminants, such as naturally occurring ozone gas, which is toxic only when present close to the ground, may have a similar effect on floral volatiles, the researchers said.
These findings could have serious implications for the global food supply, the team said, since honeybees pollinate about 70 percent of crop foods across the world, which accounts for about 35 percent of the global food supply.
Global honeybee populations have dramatically declined within the past decade or so due to a condition called colony collapse disorder, which has been associated with the spread of synthetic pesticide use and other manmade materials, but remains poorly understood.
The researchers suspect that diesel pollution may be yet another factor playing into colony collapse disorder, and that these new findings should provide further impetus to reduce diesel emissions, said study co-author Guy Poppy.
The team next plans to conduct similar experiments in the field to confirm their laboratory setup accurately reflected natural conditions, and also plans to study the neurological effects of nitrogen oxide gases on the honeybee brain.
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