Thursday, 1 October 2015

Why does a beehive represent the ‘anthropocene’?

I was inspired by the forthcoming event at UQ's GCI 'Anthropocene Slam' and got thinking about what object I would choose to represent the anthropocene.... a beehive!

Bee hives have only really been in mass use since the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century.  Its no coincidence that the intensification/industrialization of honey production occurred at this time, along with many other things!  A beehive represents humans controlling a natural ecological system, intensifying it, and exploiting it. 

Honey production is just one aspect of honey beekeeping.  The other is crop pollination.  For our mass global intensive agricultural systems that have developed over the past century we are now dependent on honey bees: e.g. Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America according to the White House.  Some crops, such as almonds, are almost exclusively pollinated by honey bees, and many crops rely on honey bees for more than 90% of their pollination. 

However, like many of our natural systems and ecosystem services that are being stretched to the max by intensive human use, honey bees are under serious threat.  Diseases such as colony collapse disorder and the pest varroa mite threaten to wipe out vast numbers across the globe. The causes of the losses of bee colonies are multiple – like many of our ‘anthropocene’ wicked problems, but most can be traced back to human resource (over)exploitation.  Loss of forage habitat, loss of genetic diversity, exposure to pesticides…
There are also spillover effects of the problems in the human-managed bee populations, such as the pests and viruses of honeybees also affecting native pollinators.  

Overall, beehives have allowed us to manipulate a natural ecosystem service to intensify our agriculture.  However, this has left our food production system very vulnerable now that beehives and honeybees are experiencing serious problems at a massive scale, posing a threat to our global food security.  I think this is a reflection of so many other ways in which humans have exploited a single natural resource to enable our population to expand, but have now taken it to a point where our ability to continue to expand our population to 9 bn and counting by 2050 is threatened by our very singular reliance on that exploitation and the effect it has … (cf. coal mining, deforestation…) 

but don't stop keeping bees!  On the contrary, we need to continue to support and improve conditions for both managed and wild pollinators, making sure we have diversity and resilience in our pollination systems both locally (in our gardens) and at an industrial scale.   

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Invasion Hotspots

The latest review for F1000 by Mark Lonsdale and myself, on F1000 here
(yes, I am still doing those!!  But I rarely get time to post on the blog!)

Review of:

Modelling Hotspots for Invasive Alien Plants in India. by D Adhikari, R Tiwary and SK Barik
PLoS ONE 2015; 10(7):e0134665

Risk assessment for invasive species in the past has tended to focus mainly on species’ attributes, rather than the role of the invaded ecosystem. This paper explores the concept of invasion hotspots - regions that are potentially vulnerable to invasion - using a large set of open access species distribution datasets available from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). A novel aspect of their approach is that they don’t simply take into account the climatic niche, they also consider human ‘influences’ known to facilitate invasion processes by delineating ‘anthropogenic biomes’. Where climatic suitability combines with vulnerable ecoregions and anthropogenic biomes, this is considered a ‘hotspot’. The authors find that biodiversity hotspots in India are especially vulnerable as invasion hotspots, an important finding - especially so, as the regional status of invasive species in India has been comparatively little studied. It also illustrates the value for ecological science of mining open access biodiversity data. It would, however, have been useful to see scale factors explored a little more; for example, many invasion hotspots the authors identify are actually in protected areas, though these are presumably within anthropogenic biomes.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Exciting job opportunity for a post-doc to work with me in Brisbane, please apply!

 CSIRO Agriculture currently have an exciting opportunity for a highly motivated Postdoctoral Fellow to join the "Pest Suppressive Landscapes" team based in Brisbane, Queensland. The team seeks to address the broad question: why does landscape context matter for the control of pests and diseases? By combining empirical ecological studies with mathematical modelling, the team aims to gain knowledge that will help address the global challenges of food security and health crises at the landscape scale. In this role you will be specifically focused on the spatial simulation modelling of fruit fly in agricultural landscapes, in order to estimate release rates of factory-produced sterile insects for effective area-wide pest management.