The monarch butterfly, the majestic black-and-orange pollinator that once covered winter trees like leaves from the Baja California Peninsula up to California’s Central Coast, is facing a sharp population decline that could spell its irreversible doom.
According to a new survey conducted by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the iconic North American butterfly, which migrates thousands of miles across the continent on an annual basis, is now hovering inches away from extinction.
In 1980, the monarch butterfly population reached about 4.5 million. By the mid-2000s, the count dropped to barely 100,000 and last year, the number of western monarchs fell to a staggering 28,429 – a 99.4 percent decline that Xerces Society conservation biologist Emma Pelton described to the San Francisco Chronicle as “this other order of magnitude drop.”
“It’s mind-boggling. We’re now down below 1 percent of the historic population,” Pelton explained to the Chronicle.
Continuing, the biologist explained that the death of the monarch species could have a knock-on effect on other insects such as bees and insectivorous bird species:
“It is very apt to say this is a canary in a coal mine for a lot of our native pollinators … There’s a tight link in a loss of insects and our songbirds, which rely on insects. We have declines in songbirds, and I think that links directly to declines in insects.”
By now, the process of extinction could prove inexorable, plunging the monarch into an “extinction vortex” wherein the species will be unable to replenish its numbers through its natural reproductive process.
The cause of the monarch’s steep and rapid decline has forced biologists to look for answers as to why the die-off has occurred. A variety of factors could be involved, all of which are tied to human economic activities ranging from logging and sprawling urbanization to pesticide and herbicide use on industrial corn and soybean crops as well as the plowing of the monarch’s milkweed habitat along the route by which it migrates.
The Xerces Society conducted the survey on Thanksgiving Day with the aid of hundreds of volunteers who counted butterflies in about 300 locations across California, a method by which the conservationist group has maintained a record of the monarch populations over the course of decades.
Scientists have suggested that since the mid-20th century, when radioactive fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons tests began to spread across the globe and human impacts on the environment began to rapidly accelerate, the earth entered a new epoch whereby human society became the primary geological force whose actions determine the future of the entire Earth system.
Dubbed the Anthropocene – a combination of the Greek word anthropos (“human”) and kainos (“new”) – the modern epoch is the first truly man-made geological period in the Earth’s history. It has also entailed mass extinctions of plants and animals alike.
Whether humankind still maintains the ability to shape our ecological environment for the better remains an open question, but the mass demise of the monarch butterfly and innumerable other species suggests that the precious time within which we can steer the Earth in a radically different direction on a system-wide level is fast running out.
Florida Set to Release a Billion Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in “Nightmare” Experiment
Environmentalists and Florida residents voiced concern and outrage Monday as state government officials and the biotechnology giant Oxitec announced plans to move ahead this week with a pilot project that involves releasing up to a billion genetically engineered mosquitoes in Monroe County over a two-year period.
Presented by local authorities as an effort to control the population of Aedes aegypti—a mosquito species that can carry both the dengue and yellow fever virus—critics warn that the effort’s supposed benefits and its potential negative consequences have not been sufficiently studied.
Responding to news that the first boxes of genetically modified mosquitos are set to be placed in six locations in Monroe County this week, Friends of the Earth noted in a press release that “scientists have raised concerns that GE mosquitoes could create hybrid wild mosquitoes which could worsen the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and could be more resistant to insecticides than the original wild mosquitoes.”
Dana Perls, food and technology program manager at Friends of the Earth, called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—which approved the project last May—to “halt this live experiment immediately.”
“This is a dark moment in history,” said Perls. “The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes puts Floridians, the environment, and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic. This release is about maximizing Oxitec’s profits, not about the pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases.”
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and Oxitec said late last week that “less than 12,000 mosquitoes are expected to emerge each week” in Monroe Country over a duration of around three months, the initial phase of the experiment.
The stated goal of the project is for Oxitec’s genetically altered, non-biting male mosquitos to mate with the local biting female population, producing female offspring that die in the larval stage before they can spread disease.
As the Miami Herald explained earlier this year: “A ‘death mechanism’ designed into mosquitoes is meant to ensure no viable female offspring will result from the mating, according to Oxitec. The male offspring will pass on the ‘self-limiting gene’ to half of their offspring, said company spokesman Ross Bethell.”
“My family’s bodies, blood, and private property are being used in this trial without human safety studies or my consent,” Mara Daly, a resident and local business owner in Key Largo, Florida, said in a statement Monday.
Barry Wray, executive director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, added that the “EPA has set the lowest possible bar for approving genetically engineered insects and has opened Pandora’s Box for future experiments that will slide through with little investigation.”
“Everyone should be writing the White House to stop this release until there are regulations and standards that truly protect us,” Wray said.
Republished from CommonDreams.org under Creative Commons
SpaceX Starship Had “Near Collision” With Unknown Flying Object, NASA Confirms
On Friday, NASA was able to successfully deliver four astronauts into orbit on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon starship, marking the first time that a manned mission took place using a reused rocket and spacecraft.
While the launch was a historical success, with the four astronauts from the United States, Japan and France reaching the International Space Station without any complications, there was a tense moment when they were warned of a potential collision with an unidentified flying object, or literal “UFO.”
While there was no time to perform an avoidance maneuver to avoid colliding with an object, the crew was informed that they should get into their pressurized suits to mitigate any harm in case of a collision, reports Futurism.
“The NASA/SpaceX team was informed of the possible conjunction by US Space Command,” said NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries. “The object being tracked is classified as ‘unknown.’
“The possibility of the conjunction came so close to the closest approach time that there wasn’t time to compute and execute a debris avoidance maneuver with confidence, so the SpaceX team elected to have the crew don their pressure suits out of an abundance of caution,” Humphries added.
The space agency was notified by the Pentagon about the potential collision roughly seven hours after the launch of the spacecraft, according to U.S. Space Command spokesman Erin Dick.
“After further analysis, the 18th Space Control Squadron quickly determined there was no conjunction threat, all aboard are safe and the spacecraft was not at risk,” Dick said.
While the “UFO” hasn’t been precisely identified, the most likely explanation was that it was a piece of space junk – or one of a growing number of human-made pieces of junk like chunks of rockets and dead satellites that have been the subject of increasing concern over the years, with the European Space Agency hosting a major conference on space debris just last week.
Humphries notes that the object only came as close as 45 kilometers from the spacecraft, posing “no real danger to the crew or the spacecraft.”
Nevertheless, the small scare illustrates the potential havoc that could be caused by the increasingly litter-strewn low-Earth orbital space.
Scientists Create First-Ever Embryos With Monkey and Human Cells
For the first time, scientists have created embryos in a lab that contain the cells of both humans and monkeys.
Scientists hope that by creating chimeric embryos – embryos containing cells from two distinct species – they might be able to create organs for people who desperately need transplants.
Over 100,000 people in the United States lone are currently on a waiting list for organ transplants crucial to saving their lives, but the supply of donor organs has dropped significantly since the pandemic began unfolding.
Researchers have attempted to inject human stem cells into the embryos of pigs and sheep in recent years in hopes of growing organs for transplants, but this hasn’t yielded positive results. Scientists are hoping that by turning to macaque monkeys, which share a greater genetic similarity to humans, they may have more success.
In a study published Thursday in the journal Cell, researchers in the U.S. and China injected 25 pluripotent stem cells from humans into embryos from macaque monkeys.
After one day, the researchers detected human cells beginning to grow in 132 of the embryos. They embryos ultimately survived for 19 days.
However, bioethicists have raised concerns about the potential for abusing medical regulations that currently govern the treatment of animal and human subjects, as well as the possibility that a rogue scientists might potentially spike living creatures with human cells.
“My first question is: Why?” Kirstin Matthews, a science and technology fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told NPR. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”
Researchers insist that the study serves purely humanitarian goals that could save countless lives in the future.
“This work is an important step that provides very compelling evidence that someday when we understand fully what the process is we could make them develop into a heart or a kidney or lungs,” said University of Michigan professor Jeffrey Platt, who was not involved in the study.
News4 days ago
WATCH: Video Shows Bullets Fly as Armored Car Crew Narrowly Escapes Brutal Heist
Corruption6 days ago
Scientists Horrified as Over 27,000 Leaking Barrels of Toxic DDT Discovered on Seafloor Near LA
News6 days ago
Huge California Fire Last Year Was Arson Meant to Conceal Woman’s Murder, Officials Say
News2 weeks ago
Musk: “Honestly, a Bunch of People Will Probably Die” During SpaceX Mars Mission