Friday, June 23, 2017

Floodplain Farmlands Benefit Juvenile Western Native Fish

Think of all sorts of Pacific Salmon varieties including the endangered California Steelhead Trout species. But there's more. In the deserts southwest historically there were once large six foot long native fish once called the "White Salmon" (Colorado Pikeminnow) & the recovering Razorback Sucker. What do all these native fish have in common ? They desparately need meandering river floodplains
Image - Carson Jeffres - July 16, 2012
Back in the 1970s, I was intrigued by an article from the Arizona Highways magazine article which told about a Native golden Apache Trout which almost went extinct were it not for the efforts of Biologists working with the Apache Indian Reservation. But they also referenced other native fish, even mentioning that some 35 different species of native fish once occupied the desert aquatic environments of Arizona. That was almost hard to believe. Like California, Arizona has dammed up it's rivers and channeled much of their watercourses to faciliate agriculture and urban sprawl. Take the river channel in photo on the right which has large tall levees on both sides to prevent the ancient floodplain from reappearing and reclaiming it's former territory. This area of Northern California is known as the Yolo By-Pass region where the floodplain is allowed to prevail once a year. Here below is a video of a very long elevated freeway section of Interstate 80 which allows the floodwaters to do their former inundation of the former wetlands landscape.

Of course there have been times (like the recent 1016/17 winter rainy season) when wetter than normal rainfall events have caused the rivers near the delta region to burst these levees in numerous places and reclaim former territories which are now towns, cities and other farmlands. This ends up in the News and the Army Corps of Engineers are called back to the reign in the power of Nature, saddle break it and force it to do what mankind wants and needs it to do. Very little of human infrastructure actually works with Nature instead of against it. Unfortunately humans are learning (too late) the correct course to take, but sometimes things in many areas are just permanently lost. There's no going back. But maybe with a few exceptions.

Image - Yolo County Flood Control - 1993
Here's a prime example above of those horrific flooding events in California's Central Valley back in 1993. Traditionally, almost the entire valley flooded in one way or another. This only happens now after long periods of rainy years where many of the reservoirs overflow their spillways and rivers run again freely with nothing to really block their former historical flow. If the flow is intense enough and more rains come, then breaches in these levees like the one above are common. Take a look at an article about a research study from U.C. Davis where solutions to Salmon decline have been found in rasing them in former floodplains.
The Solution to Restoring the Native Fish populations is restoring the Floodplains
Photos by Jacob Katz

Image -

Using Rice fields as floodplain Nurseries
“This study demonstrates that the farm fields that now occupy the floodplain can not only grow food for people during summer, but can also produce food resources and habitat for native fish like salmon in winter,” said lead author Jacob Katz of California Trout. “Our work suggests that California does not always need to choose between its farms or its fish. Both can prosper if these new practices are put into effect, mimicking natural patterns on managed lands. By reconnecting rivers to floodplainlike habitat in strategic places around the Central Valley, they have the potential to help recover endangered salmon and other imperiled fish populations to self-sustaining levels,” said Ted Sommer, lead scientist for the California Department of Water Resources and a co-author on the study. 
Using Rice Fields as Floodplains
Since 2012, a team of scientists has been examining how juvenile salmon use off-channel habitats, including off-season rice fields. The experiments provide evidence that rice fields managed as floodplains during winter can create “surrogate” wetland habitat for native fish.  The team suggests that shallowly flooded fields function in similar ways to natural floods that once spread across the floodplain, supplying extremely dense concentrations of zooplankton — an important food for juvenile salmon. Foraging on these abundant and nutritious invertebrates, the young salmon grow extremely quickly, improving their chances of surviving their migration to sea and returning in three to five years as the large, adult fish. Take note of the succees above of the fish size after being released within the rice field for a month. Representative juvenile Chinook salmon before (top) and after (middle) rearing for six weeks on the Knaggs Ranch experimental agricultural floodplain on Yolo Bypass. Bottom picture is of a tagged Knaggs fish incidentally recaptured in a rotary screw trap in the Yolo Bypass Toe Drain 13 miles downstream of the release site four weeks after the termination of the experiment. These small fish have no real chance of  survival in a large river channel. Too many predators in the deeper river and not enough food trsources for them as would be the case in large shallow bodies of water where the zooplankton and insects thrive in warmer shallow waters.

Some other articles and references to this floodplain restoration to save Salmon and still allow farming Floodplain farm fields provide novel rearing habitat for Chinook salmon
Studies show the rice-field fish are larger, healthier and more robust than those in the river at the same age

Image - Biographic 

So many of the native species of Colorado River basin native fish have disappeared for the very same reasons that have troubled the Salmon. Some are making a comeback and their story is not so dissilmilar to the Salmon rebound of California. The native fish above is the Razorback Sucker, but it itself is not the top predator. That would be the Colorado Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius) which ranged throughout the Colorado Drainage Basin as far south as the San Pedro River in southeastern Arizona into Mexico where old west historical accounts of six foot long fish were said to be common. In fact it could rival any large Salmon, even called at one time by the common name, White Salmon. But the deeper waters of the modern Colorado River which has been controlled by dams and channelization to keep it from flooding into former floodplains has hurt the reproduction efforts of many of the native fish which once dominated the river. Below is the story of the Razorback Sucker as seen in the picture above.

Image - Biographic

Image - Biographic
The fingerlings here have been captured by the researchers using a seigning net along the shallows where small fingerlings would be located. While you look at this bag of small fish on the right, only four were actually Razorback Suckers. The others were Bluehard Suckers and Flannelhead Suckers. Both native and that is good thing, but their main goal was the Razorbacks. Apparently these Scientists captured both adult Razorback Suckers and larvae in the canyon, but they didn’t find any juveniles or sub-adults. Just mature adults and larvae. These adults were living in Lake Mead and moving up the canyon to spawn. But again, beyond finding the Razorback larvae, there were no larger juveniles which indicated a problem. 

Image - Biographic
The only way to tell Razorback Sucker larvae (at the bottom) from more common cousins like Bluehead Suckers (top) and Flannelhead Suckers (middle) is through a microscope, using diagnostics like the density of back speckles and muscle fibers. So the other sucker species were doing okay, just not the razorbacks. The Glen Canyon Dam made the Colorado River simultaneously more stable, by eliminating massive spring floods, and more volatile, by instituting unnatural tide levels in the river. By tides we are basically talking about higher and lower water levels fluctuating regularly, something unnatural to this river canyon. In the Arizona morning, millions of people in Phoenix and other desert cities flick on their lights and air conditioners, then the dam managers crank up flows through Glen Canyon’s hydroelectrical turbines to meet power demand. But then at night they power back the turbines. These water level fluctuations in the river are called hydropeaking, because they cause the river to rise and fall by several feet each day. This messes with the aquatic ecosystem's biological food supply, especially for the tiny fish. More on that in a moment. 

Image - Biographic
At several days old, larval Razorback Suckers have developed little more than digestive tracts, leading some biologists to dub them, "squiggles with eyes." Doesn't such scientific intellect speak just make your spine tingle and hairs stand up on the back of your neck ? Whatever. What they found was that the Colorado River canyon was almost completely bereft of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies, river-edge specialists whose eggs are most likely to be exposed and desiccated by this hydropeaking. Tiny blackflies, which lay eggs in open water, are relatively unfazed by tides, but they don’t compensate fish for the loss of the more nourishing prey. Scarce food, more than perhaps any other factor (like larger predator fish), is what's holding native fishes back from increasing within their native habitat.
During our second day on the river, we pulled over to run our seines along a cobble bar. Nothing. Healy knelt to inspect the lifeless rocks. “In every other river, that cobble would be covered with caddis and mayflies and all kinds of algae,” he said glumly. “Here you don’t see anything because these huge tidal fluctuations leave it dry half the time.”   
Even in the pre-dam era, Healy added, the Grand Canyon’s tight confines would have challenged larval razorbacks, which prefer to grow up in wide, shallow floodplains. What little habitat the canyon had once afforded, hydropeaking now erodes and dries out. “Razorbacks need warm, stable habitats full of food to get out of that larval stage,” Healy said. “They’re not getting that here.”
Biographic: In Search of Suckers

Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle
Unfortunately other than giving honorable mention to floodplain shallows back prior to dam construction on the Colorado River and lack of shallows for pond insects and the zooplankton which would feed the little Razoeback Squiggles and other fish larvae, the Biographic article goes no further with it than that. Too bad because creating such artificial floodplain settings would probably go along way in making successful larval transition into larger juveniles and sub-adults. Like the farm/floodplain experiments which have proved quite successful in fattening up small Salmon fingerlings on zooplankton like that in the jar above right and later on aquatic insects who appear later. Below you can see the various forms of large aquatic insect life that help the California Salmon move up the food chain. The Grand Canyon Park Service quite often sings the praises with great enthusiasm about the canyon’s bizarre native fish, defending them against the complaints of the sport fish anglers who’d prefer to see the place given over to rainbow trout. And that's probably one of the biggest obstacles to recovery. The original intent of satisfying sport fishermen who were used to game fish from back east. Brian Healy, their lead fish biologist for Grand Canyon National Park, said this about the sport fisherman, “You always get that one guy who says, ‘Well, can you eat ‘em? No? Then what good are they?’” Such a typical response reveals ignorance of how an aquatic system actually works. If the average farmer has little understanding of how a natural ecosystem works in supplying plants with nutrients and in naturally maintaining checks and balances for keeping pests under control and trusts only what Industrial Ag Science tells him, then why should your average fisherman be any different ??? 😞

animated illustration -
And that is the other issue is humans having this need to see instant gratification in the way they view something's worth or value to them. In the Pacific Northwest and in California, it's much more easy to argue for conserving the Salmon, a fish that sustains the Native peoples and keeping the multi-million dollar commercial fisheries in profit. But here in the Southwest, it is considerably harder challenge to make the case for the humpback chub and razorback sucker, two species that support no industry, provide no tangible ecosystem services from the average person's perspective (which exposes their ignorance), and are effectively invisible to the overwhelming majority of park visitors. And yet this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. The California river systems and other native fish there like the Delta Smelt, while not being a sport fish, do provide a further food source for larger sub-adult Salmon. And yet the idea of saving and preserving the Delta Smelt habitat is something controversial because of large scale industrial agricultural business interests and industrial water aqueduct construction interests.

Image - Ben Kiefer/UDWR
Take special note here of a native Colorado River fish called the Colorado Pikeminnow. This one in the photo on the right was caught by Logan Johnson who is holding a Colorado Pikeminnow on the Middle Green River in Whirlpool Canyon which is a tributary river north of the Colorado River. From the historical accounts and oldest photographs in existence regarding this fish, the one Logan here is holding is a juvenile by comparison to old photographs of fishermen holding six foot long Pikeminnows from their head to the ground. Such sizes no longer exist, but this really illustrates how such a western fish could have been a large game fish which is supported by the smaller less desirable sucker species we've been discussing. Again, all of this aquatic life starts with small tributaries and floodplains. 

Image - Tom Teske & Google Earth

Image - Tom Teske
The  image above is Tom Teske's of El Centro novice attempt to show the lake level near the beach. The view is toward Fish Creek Mts. But I believe he's done a very good job of illustrating the expansive shallows of the ancient Lake Cahuilla shoreline. This area would have been a prime spawning habitat area of shallow floodplains along ancient Lake Cahuilla's western shore. Incredibly, the Cahuilla Indians constructed numerous shallow fish traps, for which several bones of native Colorado River fish were present possibly by the millions. These fish traps above right are up near the city of Indio/Thermal in the southern Coachella Valley. In both traps and camps sites where the Cahuilla peoples lived, many of these fish bones have been found. I have no doubt that the larger Colorado Pikeminnow (formerly Colorado Squawfish) were in present in Lake Cahuilla in the deeper portions of the ancient lake, but the Humpback Chub and Razorback Sucker were smaller and apparently spawning along the shoreline. Clearly the Cahuilla Indians would have easily observed this shallow spawning behaviour. I've also seen this Razorback spawning habit in the sandy shallow shorelines of Lake Havasu along the California and Arizona border. So have others. Who hasn't as a kid figured out how to trap fish with cobblestone river rocks in a small stream and tried to catch them in a bucket ? We use to devise simplistic contraptions like that. The natives would have also made some type of special reed basket fishtrap for scouping up their prey like the one below I referenced from the Oakland Museum. 

Image - Tome Teske

These traps above are some other unique fish traps on the western edge of ancient Lake Cahuilla further south in Imperial county and are radically different from those of the Indio fish traps further north. Certainly the stones are much different. Altogether they have discovered around 69 of these traps on the shallow flats. I've posted an example of a common native American fish trapping basket that may have been close to what the Cahuilla would have built and  used. Interestingly they have found the bones of native the Colorado River fish down here as well. Ninety-eight percent of the fish bones found at these archaeology sites are bonytail chub and razorback sucker which we discussed above. Both of these fish thrived in the warm, productive, plankton-rich environment of Lake Cahuilla. Remember, such shallows afforded these tiny delicate  babies an opportunity to fatten up and move upwards in the food chain where insects would have become part of their diet. The reeds and other tules would have offered protection from predators, though many would have become food sources for many other lifeforms like birds. Still once big enough, they would have moved out into deeper water only to become prey for the top predator, the Colorado Pikeminnow. Also something else to ponder, with open access from the outflow of lake Cahuilla south of Mexicali to the Sea of Cortez by means of an extremely expansive delta, who knows what else may have entered the lake from the sea at one time. Perhaps the endangered almost extinct Vaquita porpoise and other fish we know almost nothing about. Some fish do migrate from sea to fresh water and back again. There is so much we will never know. But floodplains play major roles if only people will utilize them again. Fortunately the present system as it stands now has no future. Only then will things heal to the point of recovery and improvement far better than they were before.

What was once the Colorado Delta Floodplain once was (1905) and what it is today (2017)
Image - National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Important References

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Epigenetic Modification or Transhumanist Synthetic Biology: Which one Biomimics Nature ???

The key to answering the question is finding out what motivates both sides. One respects Nature and finds beauty in it's constructed complexity & sophistication, while the other worldview prosyletizes Nature is flawed, Imperfect & Badly Designed & only the collective self-promoting genius of Scientists can fix these flaws. So who's side right ?
Image - New Scientist

The emerging field of the synthetic biology (otherwise known as the GMO movement) which started with the primitive introduction of a foreign gene by means of an agrobacterium into another completely unrelated organism has now advanced. Because we now have the much touted more accurate (almost invincible if you believe some of the hype) CRISPR cas9 gene editing tool. Not surprisingly, the motives behind this movement are goals like creating life from scratch in a Lab (using intelligence of course), to improve the quality of life by correcting nature's perceived flaws and to make the job of a Biotechnician easier when it comes to re-engineering any organism. But the biggest problem with this technology is the flawed belief system behind their scientific worldview which is shackled to this idiocy of nature being flawed, imperfect & badly designed. In their worldview, nothing other than dumb luck copying errors chosen by some blind animist god-like force which appears to be omnipotent and omnipresent in all physical things like rocks, dirt, water, chemicals, electricity, weather, climate, etc, etc, etc, otherwise known by it's better known common name, "Natural Selection." (most often described as a sort of animist Tinker Bell with magic wand whom most Scientists are oblidged to do obescience to without question) is responsible for all life as we know it. But the problem with natural selection is that this blind unintelligent force (whatever that is) is incapable of  knowing anything about about scientific methods, optimization, or guidance. Yet when scientists experiment, they often claim that their intervention, manipulation and tweeking of an experiment for a purposed outcome is in mimicry of what natural selection does in Nature. In essence, when these researchers experiment using their intelligence and ascribe it to natural selection have in actuality  rigged process and proved nothing. Often times you'll hear of a scientific genetics experiment which results in speeding up a process for obtaining a finished product. In the research paper credit is often given to evolutionary forces like "natural selection." The reason is there is an unspoken rule that such credit must be referenced to be taken seriously or receive further funding. But if any researcher guides or selects for the outcome in any way, it's not “natural selection,” it's artificial selection done by the intelligence of a scientist. Especially where a technology is said to be an improvement and/or shortcut of how they assume nature would have done something, this is where that dogma of "Argument from Poor Design" is most damgerous, especially with genetic engineering where a gene is placed inside an Agrobacterium and a randomness of sorts takes place as to where exactly this specific gene from one organism is tossed into the air like dice ending up somewhere in the DNA strand of it's foreign host. Remember, whatever that gene from one organism is and does is specific only to that organism and works in context with other genes from that organism for which it recognizes. Now with Scientific assumptions about dice theory, all that respect for organization and order in the genome goes out the window. The problem is respect for the informatioanl content of DNA. Take a break here and watch this 4 minute promotional public relations plug for synthetic biology where it's describe as nothing more than simple legos.

But here's the problem, messing with DNA is not as easy as playing with Tinker Toys or Legos as promoted by those with a investment interest want you to believe. This is the same stunt pulled by Rob Fraley and Alison Van Eenennaam in that infamous "Intelligence Squared Debates"  where they gave an irresponsible simplistic description of their gmo technology saying:
"We're just talking about genes, genes are genes, you take one gene one thing and you put it with some other genes"
Or how about Canadian  geneticist, David Suzuki, whose colleague geneticists replied to his concerns: 
Listen Suzuki, we're just talking about DNA. DNA is DNA,  what difference does it make what organism it comes from?"
So in defense of the Biotechnology business model, their public relations departments have played the definition shell game card as to what exactly consitutes genetic modification. For example, how often have you heard this, "We've been genetically modifying crops since the dawn of agriculture." Usually they provide a reference like Teosinte found in the wild and cross breeding domestication of maize done by humans, much like the example in the photo on the right. In their minds this is merely a loophole explanation which is neither black nor white, wrong or right. They thrive in a definitions world with 50 legalese shades of gray which is where they like it. In their worldview Natural Selection modified everything in the wild and that's all they are doing with genetic engineering in the Lab. Everyone, including the Biotechs, knows full well that traditional conventional breeding which created all the various cultivators, breeds and/or hybrids are not the same as manipulating genetic material between two unrelated foreign organisms inside of a sterile Lab. But once again this is all about a business advertising and justification scheme. The justification is Nature is a flawed & badly designed the natural world and only their intelligence can fix these imaginary flaws. It's true, I admit it, I quite often bring up and harshly criticize this irresponsible "Argument from Poor Design" dogma as being the main problem with the way Science is conducted and practiced today. But if you think I've over blown this and exaggrated, take a look at how the World Transhumanist Association's, Humanity Plus, magazine which fiercely promotes Synthetic Biology, telling everyone that Synthetic Biology is mankind's only hope as saviour below:
"Once we recognize that the current species are flawed, we will see that only by designing and introducing new species can suffering, poverty and the depletion of natural resources be stopped. Once we look at this option, we find already a perfect and ultimately moral solution to the threats of climate change, disease, overpopulation and the terrible scarcity giving rise to endless injustice and retaliatory terrorism."   
"The perfect solution could only be brought to the world by a heroic worker in the fields of biotech and synthetic biology. Indeed, this revolution may already be possible today, but fear is sadly holding back the one who could make it happen."
Now we have CRISPR cas9 on the GMO scene. The world has been informed that all the potential for danger and harm which the earlier GMO technology brought to the table has now been eliminated. In fact so confident that the Biotechs right about this technique, they have even gone ahead and pressured the USDA not to regulate their precious CRISPR cas9 gene editing tool technology. In a letter released to the Public back in April 2016, the US Department of Agriculture said that they wouldn't regulate the mushroom that had been gene-edited to prevent it from turning brown. What this means is that anything they wish to do from a gene editing standpoint on any organism would receive no regulation, because according to the officials who bought their story hook, line and sinker, this was NOT GMO. That would be GMO in the traditional sense of introducing new foreign gene into an unrelated subject host. Now there have been a number of other consumer crops which have gone under the CRISPR cas9 knife to eliminate that evil browning gene from things like Mushrooms, several varieties of Apples, several varieties of Potatoes, etc. Why ??? Because we have all been conditioned or brainwashed over the years into believing that white is superior to brown. That's also why we have white as opposed to brown wheat flour and white instead of brown sugar. After all, science has been telling us for 150+ years that white is superior to brown. So it's now a part of our cultural mindset. The problem though is that this particular edited gene which causes the browning also produces something very important which naturally occurs in nature called Polyphenol oxidase (PPO) which you may read about (HERE). It's loss on down the road may have unintended immune system cobsequences in both plants and mammals. 

But then low and behold, later on something else terrible was reported on about the no regulations CRISPER cas9 in the News Media. A pharmaceutical company, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals & it's RNAi drug Revusiran created through CRISPR cas9 gene editing technology for a new experimental drug which actually caused the death of many patients on the experimental drug. They really don't know what went wrong. But they discontinued the drug. Now before I leave this subject here of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Tranhumanists and the subject of Science vrs God, there is one more thing. I'm not the one always bringing this subject of God up. These Scientists are always brining it up. But what in the world does God have to do with Science ? Nothing! So why do they keep bringing it up ? Because their obsession is not with actual science, but rather God & Religion. Here is something the arrogant CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals had to say exactly one month before they pulled the plug on their CRISPR created wonder drug, "Revusiran."
“I assure you, God didn’t create RNAi to make drugs out of it,” said John Maraganore, CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, which is working on RNAi in Cambridge, Mass. “We had to figure that out.”  (Source: Stat News)
Both their worldview & greedly impatience for profit is why we get horrible mistakes in scientific innovation as a result of pure materialist ambition. Monsanto and other Biotechs also have huge monetary plans for similar new CRISPR cas9 inspired RNAi technology pesticides in their future planning. Could there also be potential for danger if the subject here in question is not for humans ? You bet & lookie here what the news has once again brought us just a couple days ago.
CRISPR gene-editing tool causes unintended genetic mutations
(Credit: lightsource/Depositphotos)

It's not hyperbolic to say that the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique has been a revolutionary breakthrough, allowing scientists the ability to quickly, easily and precisely edit sections of DNA. But questions over how precise the CRISPR tool is have been raised in a new study from Columbia University Medical Center, which shows this gene-editing technology can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome. 
CRISPR has sparked a flurry of new avenues of research around the world, from targeting cancer to HIV, with the first human trials involving CRISPR-edited cells already underway in China and a US trial slated for 2018. But this new study urges caution moving forward, suggesting we are still yet to understand the greater genomic effects of the tool. 
The team of scientists involved in the study had previously been working with the CRISPR tool to treat a serious eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which leads to blindness. They decided to examine the entire genome of the CRISPR-treated mice from their previous experiments, looking for any potential mutations, even those that altered just a single nucleotide.   Generally, when scientists are trying to identify whether a CRISPR edit has resulted in an off-target mutation or deletion they use computer algorithms to identify areas most likely to be affected and focus their attention on those.   
"These predictive algorithms seem to do a good job when CRISPR is performed in cells or tissues in a dish," says co-author of the study, Professor Alexander Bassuk, "but whole genome sequencing has not been employed to look for all off-target effects in living animals."   
In examining the entire genome from the CRISPR-treated mice, they found that the tool had successfully corrected the specific gene they were targeting, but it also potentially caused a great deal of other genetic changes. In two CRISPR-treated animals, more than 100 large gene deletions or insertions and over 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations were identified. 
"Researchers who aren't using whole genome sequencing to find off-target effects may be missing potentially important mutations," says co-author Dr. Stephen Tsang. "Even a single nucleotide change can have a huge impact." 
The team is still upbeat about CRISPR technology, but they caution other scientists to more closely study the off-target effects of any gene-editing that is undertaken. They especially note that whole-genome sequencing is vital in developing more accurate ways of using the CRISPR tool. 
Now get a load of this last paragraph. Does this statement remind you of anything you might have heard before ? 😬
"We're physicians," explains co-author of the study Dr Vinit Mahajan, "and we know that every new therapy has some potential side effects but we need to be aware of what they are."  (Source)
Remember in the film Jurassic Park and that lunch room debate between John Hammond and Dr. Ian Malcolm ???  😯
John Hammond: "All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!" 
Dr. Ian Malcolm: "Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists."

Illustration - Nature Methods

If you recall the original Biotech advertised hype, this CRISPR-cas9 editing system was supposed to target precise gene sequences and removes, adds to, or change them with the help of two components: an enzyme called Cas9 and guide RNA (gRNA). The Scientist could aim his/her gene editing arrows with pinpoint accuracy, much like a flying military Drone targeting a terrorst camp with deadly accuracy. But like the real life military Drone miscalculations, there apparently has been some unintended collateral damage with the CRISPR cas9 gene editing tool. These  unintended mutations will most likely bring problems later on down the road in the form of the wrong kind of epigentic gene expression. Then every so often on the horizon we get a glimmer of hope when something more biomimetic comes along.
First Step Taken Toward Epigenetically Modified Cotton
Image - Kimberly Vardeman.

While the cotton referenced here in the article, the real story is the eipgenetic modification. Really, it's epigenetic modification as opposed to a mythical unknown force of natural selection which does most of the workhorse engineering for change. Nothing random, no copying errors, no dumb luck, nothing to do with "Stuff Happens or Dice Theory", just an informational storage component interacting with nano-nmachines responding through environmental cues through a sophisticated sensory network system which guides, regulates, directs, etc with a goal oriented outcome. This new field of epigenetics takes a fascinating look at the chemical modifications that take place within DNA, known as epigenetic markers, that influence which genes are expressed where and/or when to be turned on or off. Some epigenetic markers stay switched in place throughout the life of an organism, but others may be added or removed in response to environmental factors such as diet (you are what you eat), disease, climate change, etc, etc, etc. Keep in mind that the field of genetics and epigenetics are really one in the same, with epigentics taking a closer look at what makes the genetic mechnisms tick. 

Image - TopSpeed
Simplistic view of the word/term Genetics by itself would be like havind a simplistc view of an automobile as a means of transportation for humans from point A to B. But epigentics would be like going even further than outward appearances by opening up those car doors and observing the dashboard control panel with it's various guages, steering, levers, switches, pedals for braking, shifting or regulating the cars speed. Or even going further and deeper by opening up the hood, viewing the engine and all it's various mechanical parts and how they all contribute and interconnect, what each part's contribution is to moving the vehicle, etc, etc, etc, right down to the sophisticated on built-in computer systems with it's climate and other control sensors which regulate and adjust the engine timing when various changes are detected in physical conditions which effect the engines perfomance regarding fuel economy, pollution control, etc. And that is how genetics should be viewed through a lens of epigenetic components. Fortunately, some responsible researchers are now taking a closer look at an idea called epigenetic modification with regards to breeding for better breeding the real way nature actually works. 

In recent decades, scientists have discovered that many traits in living things are controlled not just by their genetics—what’s written in the code of their DNA—but also by processes outside their DNA that determine whether, when and how much the genes are expressed, known as epigenetics. This opens up the possibility of entirely new ways to breed plants and animals. By selectively turning gene expression on and off, breeders could create new varieties without altering the genes.    
In this latest study, the researchers identified more than 500 genes that are epigenetically modified between wild cotton varieties and domesticated cotton, some of which are known to relate to agronomic and domestication traits. This information could aid selection for the kinds of traits that breeders want to alter, like fiber yield or resistance to drought, heat or pests. For example, varieties of wild cotton might harbor genes that help them respond better to drought, but have been epigenetically silenced in domesticated cotton. 
“This understanding will allow us to supplement genetic breeding with epigenetic breeding,” says Chen, the D. J. Sibley Centennial Professor of Plant Molecular Genetics in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. “Since we know now how epigenetic changes affect flowering and stress responses, you could reactivate stress-responsive genes in domesticated cotton.”    
The researchers discovered changes in DNA methylation occurred as wild varieties combined to form hybrids, the hybrids adapted to changes in their environment and finally, humans domesticated them. One key finding is that the change that allowed cotton to go from a plant adapted to grow only in the tropics to one that grows in many parts of the world was not a genetic change, but an epigenetic one.   
The researchers found that wild cotton contains a methylated gene that prevents it from flowering when daylight hours are long—as they are in the summer in many places, including the United States and China. In domesticated cotton, the same gene lost this methylation, allowing the gene to be expressed, an epigenetic change that allowed cotton to go global.  
I haven't quoted some of the paragraphs, only the relevant ones and I've also omitted paragraphs which dealt with evolutionary assumptions which added zero of understanding to the subject of epigenetic change. But one of the last paragraphs here should give us some pause as to how they should move forward with this research information. Take note of the highlighted wording here:
Chen says modern breeders can modify gene methylation with chemicals or through modified gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9. These methods could allow breeders to make targeted changes to a plant’s epigenome and create new breeds with improved traits. Epigenetic breeding could be applied not just to cotton but to many other major crops such as wheat, canola, coffee, potatoes, bananas and corn.
(Source: University of Texas - Austin)

So why the references to both 'chemicals' and 'CRISPR' in view of the negatives We've just touched on above ??? Because Science basically is shackled and committed towards making the industrial Agricultural business model more profitable. The last thing many researchers in Academia want is to kill the very generous hand of the host that feeds them. Anyone who believes science is strictly neutral and interested only in the discovery of natural wonders is fooling themselves. In this case these authors of the Cotton breeding research are trying to tweak an existing biotech or agro-chemical model just enough to make it look a little more responsible. Take chemicals for instance being used as the choice of epigenetic trigger for switching genes. Okay I get that, but as James Kohl says, life is nutrient (chemicals) dependent. Nutrients is actually a better word than the mere use of chemicals because these are structured in a form for which biological organisms can utilize for life. In nature many many chemical elements are strucutred in such a way in which such nutrients are unavailable to plants, hence that is where the mining operation of Mycorrhizal services come in. Industrial Science on the other hand prefers to synthesize nutrient inputs & chemical pest control products for profit. That's why working towards a mycorrhizal fungal and/or bacterial approached to maintaining whole plant systems (for farming, landscaping, gardening etc) is unacceptable because eventually there is no more profit. They need to manufacture a constant supply of consumable items to be sold regularly. That also leaves out the field of biocontrols with pests. A balanced natural nature inspired pest control system kept sustainable through responsible farming practices is a dead end for them. 

So the chemicals mentioned in the article on Cotton and epigentic modification would in their view be the trigger for the right switch in a gene to be switched on or off for a specific blueprint expression. Something like drought resistence or immune system ignition, etc. But how do you identify the right switch within a gene or what gene exactly and where in the gene is the correct switch to be manipulated located ??? That was basically what this research was about, but their answer for turning on or off such a specific switch is where we differ as to how to go about doing that for better breeding. One of the things that always puzzled me is why a seed breeder practices farming the old conventional method with synthetic inputs as opposed to a mycorrhizal one. Clearly the goal here was never yields, but rather a higher quality seed. the Mycorrhizal fungi already do this switching of genes on or off depending on the specific need for their host, but it's an area of science that won't get as much funding as the industrial science sector. The beneficial soil fungi will manufacture their own specific enzymes or nutrients which can trigger various responses within a plants immune system, much like researchers have found with human gut flora and our immune system. Our's is internal, but plant's microflora is external. Differing fungi can trigger different epigenetic responses. For example if one wanted to breed drought resistence varieties into a crop like Corn/Maize, you could identify specific endomycorrhizal species that would facilitate that process best. For example all Glomus species of mycorrhizal fungi are thought to be found in nearly all terrestrial habitats around the globe, which includes arable land, deserts, grasslands, tropical forests, and tundras, etc. So perhaps a choice of Glomus deserticola would be a good selection to instill drought resistence traits in a crop plant and it's future offspring which would be farmed in a hot arid type of environment. Clearly the name 'deserticola' is a give away as to it's first discovery. So perhaps if breeding plants for an farming area some where in Canada which has a Boreal ecology, maybe 'deserticola' is not a good choice. So you look for another species for that environment. But this article never covered any of this in the research, not even honorable mention. But at least dumping money into epigenetic research in identifying the mechanisms for change will help improve our further understanding of how nature really works. This may inadvertantly prove invaluable in the future to funding and improving mycorrhizal research.

Image - Scientific American
So let's recap: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
First, the Good. Responsible researchers are going to follow true biomimicry when it comes to breeding for superior crops by putting more attention into understanding how epigenetics actually works. And while that is good, there is caution here if using CRISPR cas9 is still an option. The article mentioned nothing about using mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria in obtaining proper epigenetic results, but it's a start. 

Second, the Bad This continued insistence on using yet another unproven safe technology which they insist is so accurate there will be no side effects is dangerous. I kid you not, despite the negative news out now about the potential for danger, they will look the other way and place a happy face over the whole thing. Anyone who still criticizes them will be labeled anti-science. 

Third, the Ugly Every living thing is at risk now for all manner of unintended consequences. Living organisms individually, entire ecosystems collapsing, etc. Human society as a whole has degraded horribly if you've been watching the latest news reports. So it's a wait and see game. The present huge loss of bioabundance of many lifeforms around the globe may already be the result of this scientific innovation getting loose out in the wild. The misuse and abuse of intelligence most likely is the culprit. People should be  questioning who and what they have been putting their faith & trust in all these years.

So can anything be done to prevent these negative side affects from taking place ? Hardly and it's likely doubtful that any steps will be taken to regulate this industry (which historically has always resented being regulated), since it was they themselves who convinced the USDA to not regulate CRISPR cas9 gene editing tool because they were not introducing any foreign genetic information into an organism, just editing out what they considered a negative trait. And don't count on the Transhumanist Groups like the IFLscience cult to be concerned, this will be like water off a duck's back to them. When the IFLscience cult people contune to repeat the claim over and over again that people who have legitimate questions and voice concerns about GMO Techology are nothing more than Anti-Science Luddites, they demonstrate that they will never provide a mature adult response to physical evidence, thus isolating their precious theory from criticism. The real question here is “are they willing” to actually integrate the observable evidence? Thus far the answer has been “No”. In fact their response & attitude is glaringly spotlighted in an article published back in 2013 in the journal, "The Conversation," where the irresponsible attitude towards bad science was exposed.
Bankers aim to maximise profits. Scientists aim to understand reality. But Mike Peacey of the University of Bristol suggests, based on a new model he has just published in Nature, that both professionals are equally likely to conform to whatever views are prevalent, whether they are right or wrong.   
In the past decade scientists have raised serious doubts about whether science is as self-correcting as is commonly assumed. Many published findings, including those in the most prestigious journals, have been found to be wrong. One of the reasons is that, once a hypothesis becomes widely accepted, it becomes very difficult to refute it, which makes it, as Jeremy Freese of Northwestern University recently put it, “vampirical more than empirical – unable to be killed by mere evidence”.
(Source: The Conversation 2013)

Illustration by Sébastien Thibault
Perhaps there is an important lesson here to be extrapolated from the last biblical book of Revelation 22:18-19, there is a dire warning is addressed to anyone who would add or take away from the informational content of that book. The warning expressed that if someone were to add any information to the book, then the plagues mentioned within that book would be added to them. It also waned that if any information was taken away from the book, then his name would be taken away from the book of the tree of life. Could we also apply this as a warning message to all the world's White Lab Coats involved in the meddling and manipulation of the informational content of genetic material within the genomes of any and all living organisms ? Do you think this same adding or taking away of informational content from the genome of any organism for profit, especially in the light of what we now know about unintended consequences, has greatly  exposed their huge disconnect with reality and ignorant incompetence ??? So what unknown unknowns are there in the way of possible un-natural plagues that might be  awaiting to be unleased on the horizon as a consequence of adding information to the genome of something mistakenly viewed as flawed and badly designed ??? On the other hand, by taking away already proven valuable information from the genome of any living organism viewed as unnecessary junk (based on an unscientific worldview motivated by ignorance), how have scientists shortened the lifespan of many (if not all) lifeforms here on Earth as a result of not looking ahead at potential negative consequences ??? If the potential for negative side effects really do exist, then what can be done about them to reverse the negative consequences ? Off hand I'd say there is nothing humanly possible that can be done to undo the damage caused to our environment by these ideologically driven people in power, other than maybe pray - God help us! 🙏

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Obsession with Biodiversity is overshadowing loss of Bioabundance

Photo by Tibor Nagy 2014
 "...Even predators as small as spiders can have considerable impacts on not only plant diversity, but ecosystem processes as well..." May 7, 2017

This little guy in the upper lefthand corner is a Pisaurina mira nursery web spider. As you know, spiders prey on insects for their food and grasshoppers are part of that diet. Given their choice of various plants for food, grasshoppers will preferentially feed on some plants more than others. These researchers found that grasshoppers prefer to eat grasses, but when these nursery web spiders are present, they will switch to another field and change their diet to other plants like Goldenrods. The Goldenrod often dominate an area where they grow, but in the presence of invading hungry grasshoppers who start munching on these plants, they chew holes and open up their monoculture canopy, which allows other plants an opportunity to thrive there as well. So apparently spiders do play an important role in the biodiversity of many plant ecosystems. An article on this was published by the In Defense of Plants journal below.
"How Spiders Increase Plant Diversity"
Image -
"It's the shift in diet itself that has ramifications throughout the entire ecosystem in question. Many goldenrod species are highly competitive when left to their own devices. If left untouched, abandoned fields can quickly become a monoculture of goldenrod. That is where the spiders come in. By causing a behavioral shift in their grasshopper prey, the spiders are having indirect effects on plant diversity in these habitats. Because grasshoppers spend more time feeding on goldenrods in the presence of spiders, they knock back some of the competitive advantages of these plants.   
The researchers found that when spiders were present, overall plant diversity increased. This is not because the spiders ate more grasshoppers. Instead, it's because the grasshoppers shifted to a diet of goldenrod, which knocked the goldenrod back just enough to allow other plants to establish. It's not just plant diversity that changed either. Spiders also caused an increase in both solar radiation and nitrogen reaching the soils!   
In knocking back the goldenrod, the habitat became slightly more open and patchy as various plant species of different shapes and sizes gradually established. This allowed more light to reach the soil, thus changing the environment for new seeds to germinate. Also, because goldenrod leaves tend to break down more slowly, they can have significant influences on nutrient cycles within the soil. As a more diverse set of plants establish in these field habitats, the type of leaf litter that falls to the ground changes as well. This resulted in an overall increase in the nitrogen supply to the soil, which also influences plant diversity.   
In total, the mere presence of spiders was enough to set in motion these top-down ecosystem effects. It's not that spiders eat more grasshoppers, it's that they are changing the behavior of grasshoppers in a way that results in a more diverse plant community overall. This is a radically different narrative than what has been observed with examples such as the reintroduction of wolves to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem yet the conclusions are very much the same. Predators have innumerable ecosystem benefits that we simply can't afford to ignore."
Great News for Biodiversity right ? 😍 Well not so fast! 😬
Three days later after I read that wonderful article from the folks at "In Defense of Plants," who wrote about how these fascinating  insect mechanism interactions which set off change reactions of events which leads to healthier biodiversity within plant community ecosystems, "Science Magazine," then comes out three days later with an article I had seen elsewhere about insect numbers disappearing. Now pay close attention, this was not about extinction, but population numbers dropping dramatically. This is something I've seriously wondered about with regards not only insects, but many lifeforms and even touched on this very subject once before in this post here where I noticed insect disappearances in my mother's yard where we do not used ANY harsh chemical pesticdes of any kind, including synthetic fertilizers. One outstanding strange thing that is now obvious is the total absence of the native red harvester ants in her backyard which is a third of an acre. Since I can remember as a kid since 1961, we always had 15 or 20 red harvester ant colonies for which my folks always tried to spray and eradicate with never any success. Prior to leaving the USA and moving here to Sweden in May 2006, there were only two actual colonies that I knew of. It caught my attention then and I went around and counted. Now there are none. There are also none across the street where there has always been a very wide dirt strip. Even up on Rattlesnake mountain at the end of the street I found none, only black harvester ants. But I also notived that the sow or pill bugs were very limited and even earwigs were gone. Again, we never spray with the synthetics:
Extinction Phenomena: Should We be looking under Boards and Rocks too ?
There are also other loss of living lifeforms I've wondered about over the last few years like mycorrhizal fungi. Many would think the microbiological world is safely tucked away in a hidden darkness and in numbers so incomprehensible that it would make it impossible for the microbiome to be harmed. Really ??? I also wrote another piece about the disappearance of a certain specific mycorrhizal fungi truffles I use to collect in and around Anza California where I use to live. For two decades every Spring  & Summer (after the first arrival of monsonnal thunderstorms) I would collect mature truffles for their spores to inoculate plants I grew on my acreage and restoration projects I involved myself with locally. Suddenly in 2001 I could no longer find them. I had also previously begun to notice pine and oak trees dying off in the same location before the fungi truffle disappearance. Now large numbers of those pines are gone except for a few and the oaks that still remain are sickly or dead, even Scrub Oaks. So I wrote about that experience as well:
What happens to Earth's Mycorrhizal Community when their Hosts fail above ground ?           

The article below is a bit more spooky. This has happened over time, but so slowly that most people "take no note." Wow, where have we heard that before ? This scenario reminds me of the story about the frog put in a pan of water where a low fire is slowly heating up the water. By the time the frog realizes what has happened it's too late. His goose is cooked. That's about where we are now and that is what the researchers are finding in the article below. It's not so much lack of biodiversity or extinction, but a huge loss of bioabundance.


JEF MEUL/NIS/MINDEN Pictures/National Geographic Creative
Fireflies, like these shown above in a forest in the Netherlands, have disappeared from some areas in North America and Europe where they were once abundant. The photograph to the right shows Hover flies, which are often mistaken for bees or wasps, are important pollinators. Their numbers have also plummeted in the nature reserves of Germany. Now take very special note here, I said Nature Reserves, not urban landscapes or rural agricultural areas where you would expect such a scenario to be the cause. Sounds like designating something a National Monument is a wasted endeavour which only serves to sugar coat and smokescreen to the public that all is well in the world when all is not well. With all the angry eco-protest marches happening everywhere, we are forced to swallow a sort of religous blind faith-based chant which goes like, "There is peace, there is peace, when they is no peace." The article below starts off by telling a story of the good'ol days when you drove your car and masses of bugs covered the bumper, grill and especially windscreen (shield) of your automobile. For me the worst place for buggageddon was always driving down into the Imperial Valley's industrial agricultural landscape. The insaneness of having to periodically stop at a gas station and cleaning my windscreen a couple of times before I even arrived at my ultimate destination of El Centro was annoying. But now many have noticed the lack of bugs on the windscreen and so have I the last couple of times we have gone through there. So what gives ? What's changed ? That's the whole point of this article.

Where Have All the Insects Gone ? 
Of the scant records that do exist, many come from amateur naturalists, whether butterfly collectors or bird watchers. Now, a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s.     
Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites.
Many losses reverberate up the food chain. "If you're an insect-eating bird living in that area, four-fifths of your food is gone in the last quarter-century, which is staggering," says Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, who is working with the Krefeld group to analyze and publish some of the data. "One almost hopes that it's not representative—that it's some strange artifact."   
No one knows how broadly representative the data are of trends elsewhere. But the specificity of the observations offers a unique window into the state of some of the planet's less appreciated species. Germany's "Red List" of endangered insects doesn't look alarming at first glance, says Sorg, who curates the Krefeld society's extensive collection of insect specimens. Few species are listed as extinct because they are still found in one or two sites. But that obscures the fact that many have disappeared from large areas where they were once common. Across Germany, only three bumble bee species have vanished, but the Krefeld region has lost more than half the two dozen bumble bee species that society members documented early in the 20th century.  
Members of the Krefeld society have been observing, recording, and collecting insects from the region—and around the world—since 1905. Some of the roughly 50 members—including teachers, telecommunication technicians, and a book publisher—have become world experts on their favorite insects. Siegfried Cymorek, for instance, who was active in the society from the 1950s through the 1980s, never completed high school. He was drafted into the army as a teenager, and after the war he worked in the wood-protection division at a local chemical plant. But because of his extensive knowledge of wood-boring beetles, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1979. Over the years, members have written more than 2000 publications on insect taxonomy, ecology, and behavior. 
The society's headquarters is a former school in the center of Krefeld, an industrial town on the banks of the Rhine that was once famous for producing silk. Disused classrooms store more than a million insect specimens individually pinned and named in display cases. Most were collected nearby, but some come from more exotic locales. Among them are those from the collection of a local priest, an active member in the 1940s and 1950s, who persuaded colleagues at mission stations around the world to send him specimens. (The society's collection and archive are under historical preservation protection.)

Weighty disappearances 
The mass of insects collected by monitoring traps in the Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve in northwest Germany dropped by 78% in 24 years.

Tens of millions more insects float in carefully labeled bottles of alcohol—the yield from the society's monitoring projects in nature reserves around the region. The reserves, set aside for their local ecological value, are not pristine wilderness but "seminatural" habitats, such as former hay meadows, full of wildflowers, birds, small mammals—and insects. Some even include parts of agricultural fields, which farmers are free to farm with conventional methods. Heinz Schwan, a retired chemist and longtime society member who has weighed thousands of trap samples, says the society began collecting long-term records of insect abundance partly by chance. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, local authorities asked the group for help evaluating how different strategies for managing the reserves affected insect populations and diversity.     
The members monitored each site only once every few years, but they set up identical insect traps in the same place each time to ensure clean comparisons. Because commercially available traps vary in ways that affect the catch, the group makes their own. Named for the Swedish entomologist René Malaise, who developed the basic design in the 1930s, each trap resembles a floating tent. Black mesh fabric forms the base, topped by a tent of white fabric and, at the summit, a collection container—a plastic jar with an opening into another jar of alcohol. Insects trapped in the fabric fly up to the jar, where the vapors gradually inebriate them and they fall into the alcohol. The traps collect mainly species that fly a meter or so above the ground. For people who worry that the traps themselves might deplete insect populations, Sorg notes that each trap catches just a few grams per day—equivalent to the daily diet of a shrew.
Sorg says society members saved all the samples because even in the 1980s they recognized that each represented a snapshot of potentially intriguing insect populations. "We found it fascinating—despite the fact that in 1982 the term ‘biodiversity' barely existed," he says. Many samples have not yet been sorted and cataloged—a painstaking labor of love done with tweezers and a microscope. Nor have the group's full findings been published. But some of the data are emerging piecemeal in talks by society members and at a hearing at the German Bundestag, the national parliament, and they are unsettling.   
Beyond the striking drop in overall insect biomass, the data point to losses in overlooked groups for which almost no one has kept records. In the Krefeld data, hover flies—important pollinators often mistaken for bees—show a particularly steep decline. In 1989, the group's traps in one reserve collected 17,291 hover flies from 143 species. In 2014, at the same locations, they found only 2737 individuals from 104 species.   
Since their initial findings in 2013, the group has installed more traps each year. Working with researchers at several universities, society members are looking for correlations with weather, changes in vegetation, and other factors. No simple cause has yet emerged. Even in reserves where plant diversity and abundance have improved, Sorg says, "the insect numbers still plunged."    
A Weather Station for Biodiversity
Researchers in Germany hope to develop a set of automated sensors that will monitor the abundance and diversity of plants, animals, and fungi with the help of pattern recognition and DNA and chemical analysis.

Changes in land use surrounding the reserves are probably playing a role. "We've lost huge amounts of habitat, which has certainly contributed to all these declines," Goulson says. "If we turn all the seminatural habitats to wheat and cornfields, then there will be virtually no life in those fields." As fields expand and hedgerows disappear, the isolated islands of habitat left can support fewer species. Increased fertilizer on remaining grazing lands favors grasses over the diverse wildflowers that many insects prefer. And when development replaces countryside, streets and buildings generate light pollution that leads nocturnal insects astray and interrupts their mating.  
Neonicotinoid pesticides, already implicated in the widespread crash of bee populations, are another prime suspect. Introduced in the 1980s, they are now the world's most popular insecticides, initially viewed as relatively benign because they are often applied directly to seeds rather than sprayed. But because they are water soluble, they don't stay put in the fields where they are used. Goulson and his colleagues reported in 2015 that nectar and pollen from wildflowers next to treated fields can have higher concentrations of neonicotinoids than the crop plants. Although initial safety studies showed that allowable levels of the compounds didn't kill honey bees directly, they do affect the insects' abilities to navigate and communicate, according to later research. Researchers found similar effects in wild solitary bees and bumble bees.  
Less is known about how those chemicals affect other insects, but new studies of parasitoid wasps suggest those effects could be significant. Those solitary wasps play multiple roles in ecosystems—as pollinators, predators of other insects, and prey for larger animals. A team from the University of Regensburg in Germany reported in Scientific Reports in February that exposing the wasp Nasonia vitripennis to just 1 nanogram of one common neonicotinoid cut mating rates by more than half and decreased females' ability to find hosts. "It's as if the [exposed] insect is dead" from a population point of view because it can't produce offspring, says Lars Krogmann, an entomologist at the Stuttgart Natural History Museum in Germany.   
No one can prove that the pesticides are to blame for the decline, however. "There is no data on insecticide levels, especially in nature reserves," Sorg says. The group has tried to find out what kinds of pesticides are used in fields near the reserves, but that has proved difficult, he says. "We simply don't know what the drivers are" in the Krefeld data, Goulson says. "It's not an experiment. It's an observation of this massive decline. The data themselves are strong. Understanding it and knowing what to do about it is difficult."  
The factors causing trouble for the hover flies, moths, and bumble bees in Germany are probably at work elsewhere, if clean windshields are any indication. Since 1968, scientists at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research center in Harpenden, U.K., have operated a system of suction traps—12-meter-long suction tubes pointing skyward. Set up in fields to monitor agricultural pests, the traps capture all manner of insects that happen to fly over them; they are "effectively upside-down Hoovers running 24/7, continually sampling the air for migrating insects," says James Bell, who heads the Rothamsted Insect Survey. 
Between 1970 and 2002, the biomass caught in the traps in southern England did not decline significantly. Catches in southern Scotland, however, declined by more than two-thirds during the same period. Bell notes that overall numbers in Scotland were much higher at the start of the study. "It might be that much of the [insect] abundance in southern England had already been lost" by 1970, he says, after the dramatic postwar changes in agriculture and land use.    
The stable catches in southern England are in part due to constant levels of pests such as aphids, which can thrive when their insect predators are removed. Such species can take advantage of a variety of environments, move large distances, and reproduce multiple times per year. Some can even benefit from pesticides because they reproduce quickly enough to develop resistance, whereas their predators decline. "So lots of insects will do great, but the insects that we love may not," Black says.   
Other, more visible creatures may be feeling the effects of the insect losses. Across North America and Europe, species of birds that eat flying insects, such as larks, swallows, and swifts, are in steep decline. Habitat loss certainly plays a role, Nocera says, "but the obvious factor that ties them all together is their diet."   
Some intriguing, although indirect, clues come from a rare ecological treasure: decades' worth of stratified bird droppings. Nocera and his colleagues have been probing disused chimneys across Canada in which chimney swifts have built their nests for generations. From the droppings, he and his colleagues can reconstruct the diets of the birds, which eat almost exclusively insects caught on the wing.   
The layers revealed a striking change in the birds' diets in the 1940s, around the time DDT was introduced. The proportion of beetle remains dropped off, suggesting the birds were eating smaller insects—and getting fewer calories per catch. The proportion of beetle parts increased slightly again after DDT was banned in the 1970s but never reached its earlier levels. The lack of direct data on insect populations is frustrating, Nocera says. "It's all correlative. We know that insect populations could have changed to create the population decline we have now. But we don't have the data, and we never will, because we can't go back in time."   
Sorg and Wägele agree. "We deeply regret that we did not set up more traps 20 or 30 years ago," Sorg says. He and other Krefeld society members are now working with Wägele's group to develop what they wish they had had earlier: a system of automated monitoring stations they hope will combine audio recordings, camera traps, pollen and spore filters, and automated insect traps into a "biodiversity weather station". Instead of tedious manual analysis, they hope to use automated sequencing and genetic barcoding to analyze the insect samples. Such data could help pinpoint what is causing the decline—and where efforts to reverse it might work best.   
Paying attention to what E. O. Wilson calls "the little things that run the world" is worthwhile, Sorg says. "We won't exterminate all insects. That's nonsense. Vertebrates would die out first. But we can cause massive damage to biodiversity—damage that harms us."
(Source: & Gretchen Vogel)
Update May 20, 2017: Sithsoniaan Tropical Research Institute
Credit: Chung Yun Tak

Credit: Saskya Van Nouhuys
I'm interjecting this tropical research report here because it is relevant to the importance of insecting leading the way ecosystems are sustained in balance. Using plasticine caterpillar models like this one in the photo above and at right at the Smithsonian's ForestGEO site of Tai Po Kau in Hong Kong, researchers discovered a global pattern of higher predation at low elevations and low latitudes. Clearly what we consider pest insects are those insects thaat eat plants we like in our landscapes, gardens and farms. But we should also acknowledge that there are beneficial natural components which eat such pests. First thing that comes to most people's minds are such predators as birds & anmals, but that is not what these researchers found. Insect predators are the most important abundant predators of pest insects in the wild as this study below found. So when loss of Bioabundance of predatory insects takes place, our goose is cooked and the only real winners in the perverted sense as all the Agro-Chemical & Biotech Industries. As sick & horrific as that sounds, it's nevertheless the  truth.
Predators are Real Lowlifes
Insects drove the trend, not mammals or birds. “As someone who has studied insect biodiversity in the tropics for most of my life, I wasn’t surprised that insects were responsible for most of the predation observed,” said Yves Basset, leader of the ForestGEO Arthropod Initiative at STRI.   
The team put out almost 3,000 model caterpillars for four to 18 days at 31 different sites from Australia to Greenland at different altitudes, from zero to 2,100 meters above sea level. Based on characteristic marks left by predators in the clay, they could tell whether the models were attacked by birds, mammals or insects.
This should be a wake up call, but most likely it will generally fall on deaf ears. Mere handfulls of interested ones will click "Like" on some Enviro-Facebook page, but mostly it will go unnoticed. The average human being hates bugs and buys into the industrial science marketing of  "An only good Bug is a dead Bug." Think back on those RAID commercials. Synthetic Pesticides are incapable of differienting between and good and bad insect. Most don't care. They want bugs gone. Seriously, walk down any Home Depot, Lowes, Hornbach, Bau Haus or other local hardware store and the only viable healthy garden solution they offer is a science-based synthetic toxic option. No instruction or education of ever building a biodiverse system in your garden thru biomimicry. There was a reference to E.O. Wilson at the end of the article. These days everyone seems to want to worship the ground that E.O. Wilson walks on as something hallowed. The 80+ E.O. Wilson, is a Harvard professor of evolutionary biology who made his celebrity claim to fame back in the 1970s with his study of social species in two books, The Insect Societies and Sociobiology. He is internationally acknowledged as "the father of sociobiology" and is the world's leading authority on ants. Hence I can understand why Gretchen Vogel who wrote the article referenced him in the last paragraph where she quotes him as saying "we must pay attention to the little things that run the world." Sure enough in his book, Diversity of Life, E.O. Wilson stated:
“Most life on land depends ultimately on one relationship: the mycorrhiza, the intimate and mutually dependent coexistence of fungi and the roots systems of plants.”
His point of course was that the importance of these beneficial fungi should not be underestimated. So okay, he has some good points on why our understanding of Nature's micro-world should be better. I totally agree. But then at other times he does an about face and turns right around and out of the other corner of his mouth tells the world that Industrial Agriculture's Biotech World is the only thing that can save Nature. In 2011 in an interview in "EarthSky Journal," E.O. Wilson said:

"And within science, this is going to be a century of biology. We are entering an age of synthesis. So many discoveries have been made in biology in the cell, at the molecular level, and on up to the development of organisms." 

"And we need all the biology and all the advances we can find in agriculture, especially. We’re going to have to switch worldwide to dry land agriculture. We don’t have enough water in enough countries to feed all those people and to restore soil to arable condition. So this means that we have to have genetically modified organisms. I’d take that as a given. Some people don’t like the idea. But that’s one of those necessities brought about by the human condition."
Clearly the very thing Wilson here is advocating is the very thing that is killing biodiversity and bioabundance. E.O. Wilson like Bill Nye will never admit that because supporting biotech world is paramont in keeping hold of their science celebrity darling icon status. Bill Nye was once opposed to GMOs, but then one day Monsanto showed him the light. More than likely he was ushered into a back room and explained the facts of life by the good'ol boys club about what he should do to keep that status quo as a celebrity icon if he knew what was healthy for him. Both Wilson and Nye are also staunch advocates of the "Agrument from Poor Design" religious dogma. I use the term religious here because there is nothing scientific about it. It's done more harm to the natural world and held back real world sustainable eco-green technological innovation more than anything else. Both men are also part of the new secular attitude espoused earlier by Edward Abbey who believed mankind is worthless and desperately needs culling if not outright removal. Although both men do not see either of themselves as part of that problem. Nobody questions these science celebrity icons and they should. Unfortunately, E.O. Wilson's and Bill Nye’s intolerant worldview seems to be rubbing off and infecting many of today's Gen-X and Millennials (think of turmoil & uncertainty) which might explain some of the insane chaos which is a common component of today's world.

Well, getting back to insects and the two artcles. A couple years ago Germany (one of the biggest users of palm oil) expressed self-righteous indignation towards Indonesia for cutting down their country's rainforests and replacing them with palm oil plantations. The Indonesian leader also fired back exposing Germany for destroying 70% of Germany's original forests. Sure enough that is true. What forests that do exist have become industrial forestry plantations, with only those few scattered nature reserves which we spoke of earlier. This is also true of most of industrial Europe including Sweden. This may well account for the drop in not only insects, but also other wildlife. So blame cannot be put squarely on the shoulders of industrial science, but also these science celebrity icons whom they go to bed with figuratively speaking to promote their technology. For all the public shouting and fingerpointing these celebrities do at the average human being for not being eco-green, they themseves are the blind leading the blind. These icons need to be exposed for what they really are. As for the average person, follow the lead recommended by the first article from the "In Defense of Plants" people. Learn how nature works and biomimic that in your own landscape or garden. As far as the bigger picture, this world's leadership (irrespecitive of the ideological worldview) needs to be completely eradicated soon. If that doesn't happen, then nothing will be saved.
Now relax to eleven minutes of Insects and Birds in a Field on a Summer Day (Natural sound meditation)