The weeks seem to be flying by at the moment but that’s ok as that means it’s time for our Frontier news round up again! Last week we saw a whole host of positive news pieces related to species discoveries, recoveries and births and while we’ve witnessed a bit more of a mixed batch this week on the whole it’s still looking quite positive.
100 Water Voles Are Set To Be Released Into The Wild
Water Vole numbers have dropped by almost 90% in recent decades and as a result they have been listed as one of the UK’s most threatened mammals for a while now. But there is hope for the future as, for the first time in 50 years Voles will once again roam free within the Yorkshire Dales. Ecologists from the National Trust are set to release a colony of captive bred Water Voles into England’s highest freshwater lake, Malham Tam. After their release the mammals will be carefully monitored for the next year and should the initial group flourish plans are already in place to release another 100 into the wild next year. For now though it is hoped that the Voles will improve the local ecosystem and equally provide a new, natural, food source for other animals in the area who are also struggling to survive in the habitat as it is, namely barn owls and otters.
Pesticides Linked To Bee Decline
Over the past 18 years researchers have worked hard to analyse and understand the rapid decline of the UK’s bee species. Numerous studies have looked closely at the link between bees and oilseed rape, a crop that is widely treated with neonicotinoid insecticides. Out of these, several studies have been conducted both in the lab and in the field and they have successfully highlighted that there is a negative effect on Honey Bees and Bumblebees from the use of ‘neonics’. However, very few researchers have delved into the long term impacts of the insecticides until the latest study which had a team examining nearly 32,000 surveys over the period from 1994-2011. This large scale study gave researchers the opportunity to look at the long term impact of pesticides on the populations of 62 species of wild bees. While it is difficult to determine exactly how damaging the neonics are due to the fact that wild bees have suffered general declines in recent years, the study did highlight that the species which regularly feed on oilseed rape suffered far more than those which foraged on various different flowers. The results of the study have made it possible to suggest that neonicotinoid use is related to the loss of bee biodiversity, which leads on to the idea that restrictions on the use of pesticides could reduce the rate of population decline for the bees but unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as that. Limiting the use of one pesticide will simply lead on to the use of another, which could result in further complications for other species and so it is now important for researchers to look into the best course of action to take before it is too late.
New Species Of Fossil Dolphin Discovered
Re-examination of a fossil that has been within a museum collection since 1951 has resulted in the identification of a new species of dolphin that scientists believe lived around 25 million years ago. Scientists studying the skull compared it to living and extinct dolphins which allowed them to determine that the specimen represents a new genus and species that has since been named Arktocara Yakataga. It is now believed that the new species is a relative of the river dolphin Platanista that is still found in South Asia today. The fossil itself was originally discovered by geologist Donald J. Miller of the U.S. Geological Society in Southeast Alaska. Researchers have therefore been left amazed at the distance between the only living relative of the group residing solely in South Asia and the original Alaskan location of the fossilized species. Alexandra Boersma, a researcher on the team, described the finding as “mind-boggling”.
While the decline of the bee populations is quite disheartening to read about, the fact that the research teams are working hard to understand the reasons behind their downfall holds promise for our ability to restore the species in the future. However, in contrast it is remarkable that even today we are still discovering new species that roamed the planet prior to our own existence and the fact that conservation efforts are now enabling teams to reintroduce lost species into their natural habitat is definitely something that should be celebrated!
If you liked this article, you can catch up on all of the past Frontier news pieces here.
By Shannon Clark - Online Journalism Intern