The harlequin ladybird is a clever little devil

GR:  This is a good example of the unintended harm caused by human efforts to improve nature for human benefit.  Accidental and intentional introductions of plants and animals from one continent to another releases the plants and animals from their native predators and diseases. If they multiply, they can replace whole ecosystems and cause drastic reductions in biodiversity and productivity. After the immediate effects of habitat loss to construction, human-introduced invasive species are the most significant contemporary destructor of nature. As global warming effects grow, surviving humans will probably share the Earth with these species.

“Tricked out in Halloween orange and black, a harlequin moves awkwardly through a micro woodland of moss on the concrete as if it were wandering through an alien world, which in some respects it is. This is Harmonia axyridis succinea, a beetle that began its global travels somewhere in eastern Asia between Kazakhstan and Japan.

“Because its larva has an insatiable appetite for aphids and other small insects it was taken to America in the 1980s for the biological control of crop pests. It was so successful that it has been transported into European agriculture, too. To show its appreciation the beetle, called the Halloween ladybug in the US and the harlequin ladybird in Europe, has had a population explosion.

“This is such a common story of what happens when commerce controls nature for its own ends that it comes as no surprise that a creature pressed into servitude causes fear on liberation. It arrived here in 2004 and in 10 years spread throughout an area that took grey squirrels a century to colonise.

Harlequin ladybirds declared UK’s fastest invading species

“Described as a “voracious invader” with a frightening appetite for other ladybirds and the eggs of butterflies and moths, the harlequin causes understandable alarm, given the threat it poses to Britain’s beleaguered wildlife. By the time the harlequin arrived here it was far too late to do anything about it.” –Paul Evans (The harlequin ladybird is a clever little devil).

NPR Poo-Poos Catastrophic Wildlife Collapse; Issues Happy Pills Instead

GR:  I have often lamented the lack of ecological knowledge among our leaders and news media.  Here’s a story by Joe Bish that illustrates the problem of ignorance among reporters.

“If you are like me, you may often wonder why such a great percentage of your fellow citizens do not fully appreciate the ecological crisis. But then, you read a report such as published by NPR below: this odious gem was printed in the wake of the recent World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report.

“I initially guffawed at the temerity of the reporter to sow doubt about the massive publication’s authenticity, mangle Stuart Pimm’s sentiments, and finally force-feed the reader a good dose of artificial happy pills. However, the more I read the article, the more insidious it became — for the simple reason it just does not convey the dire nature of what WWF published. It’s simply terrible reporting — and therein, perhaps, is one reason so few truly grasp the predicament we face. Recall this is an NPR story that probably reached multiple millions of people.

“The reporter, Rebecca Hersher, seems to have plenty of experience — see below — just hardly any that pertains to ecology. Therefore, she is left with the standard artifice of modern journalism: to manufacture controversy and look for “another point of view.”

“NOTE: Hersher came to NPR from Nature Medicine, where she wrote about biomedicine and pharmaceuticals, and started her career in science, with a B.A. in Neurobiology from Harvard University in 2011. She has been a staff member of NPR’s All Things Considered. She was one of the producers of NPR’s Peabody-winning coverage of the 2014 Liberia Ebola epidemic (work that won her the Edward R. Murrow award for use of sound.) During her time at NPR, she also embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan on an assignment with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.”–Joe Bish, Population Media Center (NPR Poo-Poos Catastrophic Wildlife Collapse; Issues Happy Pills Instead).

The Real Monster in the Woods

GR:  Numerous studies have documented the negative impact human presence has on wildlife. Animals avoid areas frequented by people.  This is why we must avoid building trails in important habitats. Strolling along a desert stream bank might be pleasing for people, but it is frightening for wildlife.  Wildlife is under attack from so many of our activities, it seems that anyone who loves nature enough to want to take a nature walk, would want to take care to avoid the most important wildlife habitats.  In deserts, those are the stream banks.

“Humans are the scariest thing in nature

“Halloween is creeping up on us, making this the perfect time to think about what scares you: Is it spiders? Heights? Perhaps this election?In most cases, steering clear of potentially venomous critters or deadly falls is a pretty good survival mechanism. But when you react to fear, it’s not just your own hide you’re saving. Your avoidance of certain animals or places has an impact on the ecosystem, whether it’s the ability of spiders to continue trapping and consuming their insect prey or minimizing high elevation habitat erosion. (Hopefully your fear of this election will lead you to vote, which will certainly have an impact on the world.)

“Fear shapes nature. The fear of being eaten by large carnivores, for example, helps keep smaller carnivores like badgers, foxes and raccoons from wreaking havoc on their food sources, affecting the balance, structure and function of their ecosystem.

“But large carnivore populations have seen truly terrifying losses in recent years. An analysis of 31 carnivore species around the world found that 75 percent are declining, with nearly 55 percent occupying less than half of their former ranges. As these species disappear, so do the benefits they provide, such as habitat restoration, disease control and the fear they instill in other creatures.

“As wolves, bears and other large carnivores have disappeared from ecosystems, scientists have wondered if humans could step into their role in the “landscape of fear.” A new study from Western University tested the theory of whether humans could substitute as the monster-hiding-in-the-bushes for smaller carnivores. After all, we have inflicted the worst slasher movie imaginable on wildlife, with our actions driving plants and animals extinct at 1,000 times the natural background rate.

“It turns out our scare tactics are much, much worse.

“Not only are smaller carnivores killed by human hunters at a rate more than four times greater than by nonhuman carnivores, but the fear we strike in their hearts goes much deeper.

frightened-badger“Badgers typically respond to fear by spending less time foraging, becoming more vigilant and reducing the number of visits to a particular food source. When researchers played a spooky soundtrack of humans talking, most of the badgers didn’t feed at all and the brave few who ventured out spent significantly less time feeding than they did with the sounds of bears, wolves and dogs. The effects of this paralyzing terror may be as great, if not greater, than the effects of directly killing small carnivores, which in turn could affect every plant and animal lower than them on the food chain. As one of the researchers noted, “Humans may be distorting ecosystem processes even more than previously imagined.” –Stephanie Feldstein – The Real Monster in the Woods – Center for Biological Diversity – Medium