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Prayers Answered

Praying mantids are, oh, so patient.

They perch on a flower, their spiked forelegs seemingly locked in a praying position, and wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.

A green praying mantis recently did just that on our cosmos.

Usually we have to hunt for the mantids because they are so camouflaged or concealed.

Not this one.

This one was as visible as a green elephant in a field of snow.

Despite its conspicuous visibility, the attempts of this lean green machine proved fruitful. First, a honey bee. Then a fiery skipper.

His prayers were answered.

A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, September 12, 2014 at 6:49 PM

Helping to Meet Global Challenges Through Evolutionary Biology

Scott Carroll (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two categories of evolutionary challenges result from escalating human impacts on the planet. The first arises from cancers, pathogens and pests that evolve too quickly, and the second from the inability of many valued species to adapt quickly enough. Applied evolutionary biology provides a suite of strategies to address these global challenges that threaten human health, food security, and biodiversity. This review highlights both progress and gaps in genetic, developmental and environmental manipulations across the life sciences that either target the rate and direction of evolution, or reduce the mismatch between organisms and human-altered environments. Increased development and application of these underused tools will be vital in meeting current and future targets for sustainable development.
 
So begins the informative article in today's Science Express. Titled "Applying Evolutionary Biology to Address Global Challenges," it is the work of a nine-member global team led by Scott Carroll, evolutionary ecologist at the University of California, Davis.

Evolutionary biology techniques can and must be used to help solve global challenges in agriculture, medicine and environmental sciences, they said.  

Science Express makes important papers available to readers before they appear in the journal Science.  The first-of-its-kind study will appear in a November edition of the journal.

 “Evolutionary biology is often overlooked in the study of global challenges,” said lead author Scott, with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Institute for Contemporary Evolution, also in Davis.  “By looking at humanity's problems across the domains of nature conservation, food production and human health, it is clear that we need to strengthen evolutionary biology throughout the disciplines and develop a shared language among them.”

The study calls attention to how evolutionary biology techniques can be used to address challenges in agriculture, medicine and environmental sciences, said Carroll, noting that these techniques, although seemingly unrelated, work within a similar set of evolutionary processes.

“These techniques range from limiting the use of antibiotics to avoid resistant bacteria and breeding crops with desired benefits such as flood tolerant rice, to less commonly implemented strategies such as gene therapy to treat human disease, and planting non-native plants to anticipate climate change,” Carroll said.

“A particular worry is the unaddressed need for management of evolution that spans multiple sectors, such as occurs in the spread of new infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance genes between natural, human health and agricultural systems.”

Harvested corn in a photo from the 1950s. The research team says that when a farmer plants a crop that is susceptible to pests, he might actually help the agricultural community as a whole by slowing down evolution of pesticide resistance, the authors said, citing an applied evolutionary biology tactic used in agriculture.
Said co-lead researcher and biologist Peter Søgaard Jørgensen of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark: “Many of the global challenges we face today have common biological solutions but we can tackle them effectively only if we are aware of successes and progress in all fields using evolutionary biology as a tool.”

In their paper, the nine researchers—two from UC Davis, one from UCLA and six from universities in Denmark, New Zealand, Maine, Minnesota, Washington state and Arizona--crafted a graphic wheel divided into three sectors, food, health and environment and cited the challenges that link them together, including rapid revolution and phenotype environment mismatch in more slowly reproducing or threatened species.

Carroll said the underlying causes of societal challenges such as food security, emerging disease and biodiversity loss “have more in common than we think.”

“Humans, pathogens and all other life on earth adapt to their environment through evolution, but some adaptation happens too quickly and some too slowly to benefit human society,” Carroll said. “Current efforts to overcome societal challenges are likely only to create larger problems if evolutionary biology is not swiftly and widely implementedto achieve sustainable development.”

Society faces two sorts of challenges from evolution, the research team said. “The first occurs when pests and pathogens we try to kill or control persist or even prosper because the survivors and their offspring can resist our actions,” Carroll said. “The second challenge arises when species we value adapt too slowly, including humans.”

Although practices in health, agriculture and environmental conservation differ, each field can better target challenges using the same applications of evolutionary biology, they said.

For example, when a farmer plants a crop that is susceptible to pests, he might actually help the agricultural community as a whole by slowing down evolution of pesticide resistance, the authors said, citing an applied evolutionary biology tactic used in agriculture.

Planting pest-friendly crops has been used in the United States with good results, the team said. Farmers planting these crops slow the evolution of resistance to genetically modified corn and other crops. Pests then reproduce in abundance eating the susceptible plants, and when a rare resistant mutant matures on a toxic diet, it is most likely to mate with a susceptible partner, keeping susceptibility alive. This approach works to suppress the unwanted evolution on the whole, but farmers will have sacrificed a short-term gain for the long-term good.

Similar innovative solutions exist across the fields of medicine and environmental conservation, they said.

“This is an example of how implementing applied evolutionary biology without a plan for regulatory measures may come at short-term costs to some individuals that others may avoid.” Jorgensen said. “By using regulatory tools, decision makers such as local communities and governments play a crucial role in ensuring that everybody gains from the benefits of using evolutionary biology to realize the long-term goals of increasing food security, protecting biodiversity and improving human health and well-being.”

Other co-authors are Michael T. Kinnison, University of Maine; Carl Bergstrom, University of Washington; R. Ford Denison, University of Minnesota; Peter Gluckman, University of Auckland, New Zealand; Thomas B. Smith, UCLA; Sharon Strauss, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and Center for Population Biology, and Bruce Tabashnik, University of Arizona.

Carroll is an affiliate of the Sharon Lawler lab,  UC Davis Entomology and Nematology. The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Australian-American Fulbright Commission.

(See PDF at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2014/09/10/science.1245993.full.pdf)

 

The pink bollworm, a global pest of cotton, has evolved resistance to genetically modified   cotton in India, but not in Arizona where farmers have planted refuges of conventional cotton to reduce   selection for resistance. (Photo by Alex Yelich, University of Arizona)
The pink bollworm, a global pest of cotton, has evolved resistance to genetically modified cotton in India, but not in Arizona where farmers have planted refuges of conventional cotton to reduce selection for resistance. (Photo by Alex Yelich, University of Arizona)

The pink bollworm, a global pest of cotton, has evolved resistance to genetically modified cotton in India, but not in Arizona where farmers have planted refuges of conventional cotton to reduce selection for resistance. (Photo by Alex Yelich, University of Arizona)

Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 5:33 PM

Something Was Wrong

Something was wrong.

The Anise Swallowtail (Papillo zelicaon) that fluttered into our bee garden last weekend and began nectaring on zinnia wasn't quite herself.

Her yellow and black coloring and the striking blue spot on the rear left wing looked fine. But the blue spot was MIA on the rear right wing. In fact, a huge chunk of that wing was MIA.

Its missing parts told part of the story: It had managed to escape a predator, probably a bird, praying mantis or spider.

"Good thing she survived," said butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis who monitors the butterflies of Central California. "It's a gravid female." (Distended with or full of eggs.)

"They have several generations (late February or March-October)," he writes on his website, Art's Butterfly World. The Anise Swallowtails breed largely on fennel or anise (Foeniculum vulgare) and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). Both, he says,  are naturalized European weeds.

The butterfly's usual range, according Wikipedia, "extends from British Columbia and North Dakota at its northern extreme, south to the Baja California peninsula and other parts of Mexico. It is occasionally reported from the southeastern United States, but its normal range does not extend east of New Mexico. In all the more northerly parts of the range, the chrysalis hibernates."

The Anise Swallowtail is commonly found in fairly open country, Wikipedia says, and "is most likely to be seen" on bare hills or mountains, in fields or along roadsides.  "It is often seen in towns, in gardens or vacant lots."

We've seen P. zelicaon on plants from A to Z: anise along roadsides and zinnias in our garden.

Zelicaon on a zinnia...

This Anise Swallowtail is missing part of its wing. A predator missed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This Anise Swallowtail is missing part of its wing. A predator missed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This Anise Swallowtail is missing part of its wing. A predator missed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise Swallowtail nectaring on zinnia.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise Swallowtail nectaring on zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise Swallowtail nectaring on zinnia. (Photo by K

Anise Swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise Swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise Swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 9:12 PM

Brother, Can You Spare a Meal?

A freeloader. A moocher. A sponger.

That's the freeloader fly.

A praying mantis is polishing off the remains of a honey bee. Suddenly a black dot with wings edges closer and closer and grabs a bit of the prey.

So tiny. So persistent. So relentless. That's the freeloader fly.

Don't look at the mangled honey bee. Don't look at the hungry praying mantis.

Look at the freeloader fly. Wait a few seconds and you'll see another.

The scene: a camouflaged praying mantis is tucked beneath some African blue basil leaves and the light is fading fast.  (You could say I took this image "on the fly.")

Senior Insect Biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostic Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) identified these "freeloader flies"  as family Milichiidae and "likely the genus Desmometopa." See Wikipedia.

They are so tiny, Hauser says, that the mantids, spiders and Reduviidae (think assassin bugs) "don't bother chasing them away or even trying to eat them."

Hauser pointed out images of freeloader flies from BugGuide.net: http://bugguide.net/node/view/23319/bgimage

And look at all the freeloaders on this prey: http://bugguide.net/node/view/512989/bgimage

Back in March of 2012, agricultural entomologist Ted C. MacRae who writes a popular blog, Beetles in the Bush,  posted an image of an assassin bug eating a stink bug. Check out all the flies engaging in what he calls kleptoparasitism--stealing food.

Everybody gets fed. Nobody leaves hungry.

Praying mantis eats a honey bee while a freeloader fly, family Milichilidae, does, too. Another freeloader edges closer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis eats a honey bee while a freeloader fly, family Milichilidae, does, too. Another freeloader edges closer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Praying mantis eats a honey bee while a freeloader fly, family Milichilidae, does, too. Another freeloader edges closer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The freeloader fly is quite persistent. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The freeloader fly is quite persistent. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The freeloader fly is quite persistent. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 5:59 PM

Quit Mimicking Me!

Last weekend a little critter made its first-ever appearance in our family bee garden. It was neither a grand entrance nor a grand insect.   

"A fly!" I thought, as I looked at its knoblike bristle or arista on the end of each antenna.

But its body--what little I could see of it before it winged out of there--definitely resembled a wasp. A Western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica) or European paper wasp (Polistes dominula).

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, identified it as a syrphid fly, genus Ceriana, family Syrphidae. 

Talented Davis photographer Allan Jones captured an excellent photo of Ceriana in 2012. A full body shot: head, thorax and abdomen! His excellent image (second one, below) shows the distinguishing characteristics: two wings (fly), not four wings  (bees, wasps), as well as the arista (fly) and the spongelike mouthparts (fly).

BugGuide.Net posted some excellent images of Ceriana on its site. Class: Insecta. Order, Diptera. Family: Syrphidae: Genus: Ceriana.

Ceriana is a genus of wasp mimics. Basically, it's a syrphid fly, a pollinator. It's also known as a hover fly or flower fly as it hovers, helicopterlike, over flowers before drops down to forage.

Would-be predators, no doubt, avoid Ceriana because of its coloration. "Oops, don't mess with that! That's a wasp!"

Picnickers who don't know a faux wasp from a real one would probably run from it, or swat at it.

"It's definitely a good mimic and probably gets a lot of protection from that coloration," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.

So true!

This wasp mimic is actually a fly, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This wasp mimic is actually a fly, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This wasp mimic is actually a fly, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Davis photographer Allan Jones captured this fantastic  image of the wasp mimic, Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Davis photographer Allan Jones captured this fantastic image of the wasp mimic, Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Davis photographer Allan Jones captured this fantastic image of the wasp mimic, Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanic, which looks a lot like the wasp mimic, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanic, which looks a lot like the wasp mimic, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanic, which looks a lot like the wasp mimic, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. A syrphid fly mimics this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. A syrphid fly mimics this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. A syrphid fly mimics this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, September 8, 2014 at 6:07 PM

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