The buzz on climate change: It’s bad for bees


A honeybee at dusk. (© A Davis/Flickr)

Editor’s note: August 19 is National Honeybee Day.

Did you eat an apple today or drink coffee this morning? Thank a bee.

About one out of every three bites of food is made possible by bees and other pollinators — in the United States alone, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops each year. But the world’s honeybees are in steep decline, with 10 million hives disappearing just in the past three years. Not having honey is the least of our problems.

While scientists aren’t clear on exactly what factors are behind bees’ decline, what is known is that climate change is also making life harder for bees. Here’s how:

1. Habitat loss

Climate change is causing habitat loss as bees fail to migrate to cooler areas and establish new hives. A recent study on bumblebee migrations found that bee territories have shrunk by nearly 200 miles in North America and Europe. In South Africa, CI is keeping important pollinator habitat intact and helping to ensure future food security there.

2. Shifting temperatures

As average monthly temperatures rise, flowers bloom earlier in the spring, creating a potential mismatch in seasonal timing between when flowers produce pollen and when bees are ready to feed on that pollen. Even a small mismatch of three to six days could negatively affect bees’ health, making them less likely to reproduce and less resistant to predators and parasites.

3. Disease

Honeybees are susceptible to parasites such as Varroa mites and the gut parasite Nosema ceranae, and environmental stresses may increase infections. Scientists first discovered the Nosema ceranae in the early 1990s in Asian honeybees. It has since spread to Europe and the U.S., causing shorter lifespans and colony collapse. A recent study found that lower temperatures were associated with lower prevalence of the parasite, indicating that higher temperatures as a result of climate change could result in more bees infected with Nosema ceranae.

What can you do? Experts suggest starting with the bees and other pollinators in your own backyard: Plant a pollinator-friendly garden designed to maximize blooming for most of the year. In urban areas, porch and window planters can provide important food sources for bees.

Leah Duran is a staff writer for CI.

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Further reading

Climate change spells trouble for orangutans


A mother orangutan and her baby in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. (© Will Turner)

Editor’s note: August 19 is World Orangutan Day.

The world’s orangutan population is dwindling. Native to only two islands — Sumatra and Borneo — orangutans are threatened by deforestation, fire and climate change. In Borneo, their numbers have fallen by 60 percent since 1950 — and experts project there will be fewer than 50,000 in less than a decade.

As this species faces the effects of climate change and encroaching humans, protecting them — and their habitats — has never been more important. Here are three of the greatest threats they face.

1. Shifting temperatures

Changing temperatures and rainfall patterns as a result of climate change affect where orangutans can find the tree fruits and leaves they eat. Orangutans are also less likely to reproduce when food is scarce.

Roaming into new territory in search of food can also spur human-orangutan conflict. Orangutan babies are illegally sold as pets, while an estimated 2,500 orangutans in Borneo alone are killed for their meat each year.

2. Deforestation

Orangutans spend 90 percent of their lives in trees. Cutting down tropical forests for palm oil plantations and illegal logging destroys critical orangutan habitat and releases carbon stored in trees, contributing to climate change. As palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia expand to meet rising consumer demand, unsustainably cultivated crops replace forests, and orangutans are occasionally killed as agricultural pests.

Making sure tropical forests remain standing helps protect orangutans and other wildlife while tackling climate change. To keep deforestation out of palm oil supply chains, CI is working with companies and governments in Indonesia, Brazil, and other key palm-oil-producing countries.


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3. Fires

Longer dry seasons are increasing the dangers of fire in Borneo. Fire fragments orangutan habitat and threatens their food sources by lowering the number of fruit-bearing trees on which they rely.

Aside from wildfires, burning to clear forests for agricultural land also burns underlying peatlands, an important carbon sink. Peatlands, whose soil consists of compressed and wet organic material, store twice the carbon of all the planet’s forests while accounting for only 3 percent of land area. Longer, hotter and drier fires across forests and peatlands will release even more carbon into the atmosphere while accelerating habitat loss for orangutans.

Protecting orangutans means protecting forests — and the climate they help to regulate.

Leah Duran is a staff writer for CI.

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Further reading

5 myths about farmed seafood

Aquaculture: 5 myths about farmed fish

Fish and clam farm in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. (© pizmovka)

Editor’s note: With 3 billion people relying on seafood as their chief source of protein, farmed seafood — known as “aquaculture” — will be crucial to feeding a growing population without further depleting our oceans. Although it supplies nearly half of all seafood consumed globally, aquaculture gets a bad rap. In this piece, we puncture some of the myths about farmed seafood.

Myth #1: Only a few fish species come from aquaculture

For many, aquaculture is synonymous with shrimp, catfish or salmon. While 70 percent of salmon on the market is farmed, salmon makes up less than 5 percent of all aquaculture production. Farmed seafood also includes mussels, oysters, lobsters and more than 225 species of fish, with freshwater fish and mollusks topping the production list.

Aquaculture has already surpassed global beef production, and demand is likely to keep growing, said Ben Halpern, lead scientist for the Ocean Health Index, a tool developed by CI that tracks ocean health.

“There’s a limit to how much wild fish we can sustainably catch indefinitely, whereas with aquaculture, we can produce more fish,” Halpern said. “We can’t meet increasing demand if we pit caught and farmed fish against each other. That’s not a productive debate. We need to focus on how we can do aquaculture as sustainably as possible.”

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Conservation beyond fences

Outside Kruger National Park, Conservation South Africa is working with local leaders to shape a new conservation and development path for the community. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: Conservation International is publishing stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. Here is a look at the concluding story in that series.

The continent of Africa has more children and teenagers than anyone else. With a median age of under 20 years old, it is the world’s youngest continent — and its fastest growing. Even as population growth in India, Southeast Asia and the Americas is expected to level off in coming decades, Africa is projected to double its residents by 2050.

For Sarah Frazee, chief executive officer of Conservation South Africa, finding conservation solutions that can mesh with urgent development needs means going outside the traditional toolbox of protected areas and use restrictions.

“The challenges of population growth and their need for natural resources will place huge pressure on areas currently set aside for nature and wilderness,” Frazee said. “Finding ways to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems where people currently live — cities, farms, communities adjacent to protected areas — will be crucial for the future of both people and nature.”

Outside Kruger National Park, where many residents have never visited the wildlife reserves that abut their land, that means restoring a lost connection to nature, starting with the youngest generation.

Read part five: “Conservation beyond fences”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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In ‘blockchain’ technology, a futuristic solution to conservation’s greatest challenges

Socio Bosque herder

A herder stands with an alpaca that the community was able to purchase as part of the Socio Bosque program in Ecuador. Blockchain technology could help simplify and streamline key aspects of the program. (© Conservation International/photo by Jessica Leas)

What if you could know exactly where the fish on your plate came from, through an app on your smartphone? What if you could instantaneously send money to an Ecuadorian farmer for protecting trees on her land?

The ability to transfer and track items of value instantaneously is remarkable, but it faces steep hurdles to scale up: hacking, local corruption, and a patchwork of policies and technological platforms.

Now, however, a promising breakthrough could potentially revolutionize conservation in the process.

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Our critical allies for elephants

A baby elephant with its mother in Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. (© Jon McCormack)

In the Samburu pastoralist communities of Kenya, herders sing to their cattle at the watering holes they dig into dry river beds. Each herder has his own song, and the cattle learn to recognize their owner’s melody to find the correct well.

These days, this musical tradition has a conservation twist: Each morning, before delivering water to their cattle, these herders spend a couple of hours in the hot morning sun digging out the same watering holes they dug the day before. The reason: an understanding with elephants.

The coexistence didn’t come easily. For years, herders and elephants clashed. The clumsy pachyderms collapsed sandy water wells each night while trying to steal a drink, while desperate herders did all they could to protect their meager livelihoods, sometimes resorting to lethal methods to discourage the six-ton pests.

Today, these herders are champions for elephants. In a far-reaching partnership, the community now benefits directly from wildlife tourism. The revenue generated from healthy elephant populations means they can improve their homes, expand their businesses and send their children to school.

It’s no wonder the herders now happily re-dig their watering holes every day.

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Two ears, one mouth

Sinegugu Zukulu, CI’s program manager for the Umzimvubu River catchment. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: Conservation International is publishing stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. Here is a look at part four of that series.

Sinegugu Zukulu, CI’s program manager for the Umzimvubu River catchment, was born in the southernmost extent of the landscape he now works to improve — an expanse of rolling grasslands overlooking the Indian Ocean known as Pondoland. Having grown up as a neighbor of Matatiele, Zukulu appreciates the complexities of working with rural communities.

“People find it very difficult to work with rural areas because it is very dynamic,” he said. “You have got to have a particular set of skills to be able to work successfully.”

So what is his secret?

“Number one, being able to listen to the people. Being able to be open to learning something new from the rural people. Respect for the indigenous knowledge systems. Being able to remind yourself that you don’t know it all. Rural people will teach you, because they know this place better.

“You must be humble. Because if you are not humble, rural people are very quick to pick that up, and they will make your life very difficult and you will not achieve anything.

“When you are able to listen, when you have two ears and one mouth, that means you listen more than you tell them what to do. But if you come there with three mouths and one ear, then your work will not go very far.”

In South Africa’s Eastern Cape conservationists are connecting with local communities through culture, science and shared values.

Read part four: “Two ears, one mouth”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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Indigenous leaders: What we wish Westerners knew

© Aaron Joel Santos/Aurora Photos

A Samburu warrior in traditional dress, Kenya. Indigenous peoples are key partners for conservation efforts around the world. (© Aaron Joel Santos/Aurora Photos)

Editor’s note: Indigenous peoples make up approximately 5 percent of the world’s population (370 million people). Though they act as stewards of nearly a quarter of Earth’s land and the vast majority of its wildlife, they still face critical challenges — including legal rights to their lands and natural resources.

On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples — and the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — Human Nature is revisiting an interview with members of Conservation International’s (CI) Indigenous Advisory Group. These leaders sat down with Minnie Degawan, the director of CI’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program, to discuss the challenges and successes of indigenous peoples around the world.

Minnie Degawan: What do you want Westerners to know about indigenous peoples?

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In the news: Government report finds climate change impacting U.S.

A man stand on top of a seawall built to forestall the effects of stronger storms in Kiribati. Communities around the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. This includes the United States, according to a new report from U.S. government scientists. (© Ciril Jazbec)

Editor’s note: This post was updated on August 10, 2017 to reflect a correction issued by the New York Times. It reads: “An article on Tuesday about a sweeping federal climate change report referred incorrectly to the availability of the report. While it was not widely publicized, the report was uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January; it was not first made public by The New York Times.”

A U.S. government study finds that climate change is already affecting many aspects of American life and that record-setting temperatures are likely to become the new norm.

A copy of the draft report, first reported by The New York Times, details the consequences of a dramatic rise in temperature observed in the United States since 1980, including impacts to agriculture, water supplies, infrastructure and human health.

The report’s findings are among the most comprehensive yet compiled.

The future of the government report, which is at odds with the official stance on climate change from the Trump Administration, is unclear. But it is just the latest gathering of scientific evidence of the effects that a changing climate is already having.

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‘Time to fix things now’

South African conservationist Sissie Matela, seen here in Hawai‘i where she recently received an award for her environmental work. (© Conservation International/photo by Robin Moore)

Editor’s note: Conservation International is publishing stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. Here is a look at part three of that series.

Faced with convincing a skeptical community to change the way they graze their cattle, local advocate Sissie Matela developed a simple ploy: Open the corrals, she would tell the farmers, and see where the animals go.

“They would open the corral, and the animals literally would just run out and go very far away from home,” recalls Matela. The land was so degraded that the animals would not stop to graze for miles. The simple experiment was evidence for Matela’s proposition that things needed to change. It is the sort of personal diplomacy that characterizes the work she has done for 15 years, changing minds one at a time.

In the farming town of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Matela and a group of conservationists is protecting Africa’s most biodiverse grassland and bringing prosperity through livestock auctions.

Read part three: “Time to fix things now”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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