Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.
American honeybees need some European bee sperm
“Seducing a honeybee drone — one of the males in a colony whose only job is to mate with the queen — is not too difficult. They don’t have stingers, so you just pick one up. Apply a little pressure to the abdomen and the drone gets randy, blood rushing to his endophallus, bringing him to climax,” writes Ryan Bell in FERN’s latest story, published with NPR’s The Salt. But for the researchers at Washington State University who have traveled across Europe in search of just the right bee sperm, pleasuring drones is serious business. The scientists hope that they can find sperm that will bring new genetics to American honeybees and help them fight off the varroa mite. The mite sucks bee blood from adults and larvae, weakening the bees’ immune system and spreading diseases, contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder. Last year, a third of hives in the U.S. died.
New York Magazine
“If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today,” says New York Magazine in an article that describes in harrowing detail exactly what scientists predict could come to pass. From new plagues spreading across the planet to entire parts of the globe becoming uninhabitable, from air so rich in ozone it makes children up to 10 times more likely to be autistic to countless new wars in the coming century — the picture is beyond bleak. This isn’t an article about “fixing” climate change. It’s a doctor’s terminal diagnosis. And yet, though even some climate experts have criticized the piece for being “doomist,” it makes painfully clear what’s at stake.
Taylor Shellfish Farms is the largest shellfish provider in the nation. But in recent years, the Washington State company has seen the survival rate of its oyster-larvae plunge nearly three-quarters. As the ocean absorbs rising carbon dioxide emissions, it becomes more acidic in the process, making it increasingly difficult for shellfish to form a shell. “Shellfish farmers are working to reduce the amount of nitrogen and organic carbon flowing into Puget Sound, as both pollutants exacerbate acidification,” says Investigate West. “They’re experimenting with growing their shellfish alongside seaweed and algae that gobble up carbon dioxide, creating pockets of seawater that are less sour.” But none of that is enough to stop the problem —or save Washington’s $270-million-a-year shellfish industry — unless climate change itself can be checked.
With thousands of pouty-lipped, big-fleshed fish gathering under the full moon, divers have called the spawning of Nassau grouper “one of the great wonders of the natural world,” says Hakai Magazine. Cuba and the Bahamas even tout the fish on postage stamps, in part because for most of history it was extremely easy, and lucrative, to catch. But now the grouper have disappeared from many of their old spawning sites — and are down to under 150 fish in others. Belize, a tiny country with a population of just 360,000, has closed these sites to fishing year-round, protecting other threatened species as well. But while the country funds patrol ships to protect the waters, Honduran and Guatemalan fisherman — their own grouper catches already decimated — steal the fish at night, sometimes armed and rarely stopped.
The biotech industry is going beyond hiring lobbyists and filing lawsuits to “deploying industry-allied scientists and using pro-GMO websites to discredit journalists covering glyphosate and GMOs,” says Progressive. According to the outlet, Monsanto uses a media strategy called “Let Nothing Go,” in which “individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry rapidly respond to negative social media posts regarding Monsanto, GMOs, and agrichemicals.” The industry has also funded conferences designed to train scientists and journalists how to present the debate over GMOs and Monsanto’s herbicide — glyphosate (a.k.a. Roundup), even paying journalists to appear. But if journalists attend events like a conference at the University of California-Davis, which paid presenters $2,500, they’re agreeing to a practice that “changes journalism [into] another form of pay-for-play,” says Gary Schwitzer, the publisher of HealthNewsReview.
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