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Bees Attracted to Nicotine, Caffeine

HAIFA, Israel, Feb. 11 (UPI) — Israeli scientists say they’ve discovered bees prefer nectar with small amounts of nicotine and caffeine over nectar that does not include those substances.

“This could be an evolutionary development intended, as in humans, to make the bee addicted,” said University of Haifa Professor Ido Izhaki, who led the study.

Flower nectar is primarily comprised of sugars, which provide energy for the potential pollinators, the scientists said. But they said the floral nectar of some plant species also includes small quantities of caffeine and nicotine. The study sought to determine whether those substances are intended to “entice” the bees or whether they are byproducts that are not necessarily linked to any such objective.

The researchers said their results showed bees clearly prefer nectar containing small amounts of nicotine and caffeine over “clean” nectar. Given a choice of higher levels of nicotine versus “clean” nectar, the bees preferred the latter.

The scientists emphasized their results proved a preference, not addiction, and they are currently examining whether bees do indeed become addicted to nicotine and caffeine.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Viruses Lure Insects to Infected Plants

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Feb. 2 (UPI) — U.S. entomologists say they’ve discovered a common plant virus lures aphids to infected plants and then uses the aphids as transportation to other plants.

The Pennsylvania State University researchers said they determined the viruses make the infected plants more attractive, but when the insects taste the plant they quickly leave for tastier, healthier ones. That allows the virus to rapidly transmit the disease.

“The virus improves the cues that insects use to identify food by elevating some aspect of a trait that is already in the plant,” said Assistant Professor Mark Mescher. “In this case they appear to elevate the odor cue, without changing it.”

Mescher said the finding has implications beyond agriculture. If pathogens can alter hosts to make transmission more efficient, they might also be doing it in such insect-transmitted human diseases as malaria or dengue fever.

The research that included graduate student Kerry Mauck is reported in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Mountain Pine Beetle Devastation May be Slowing

DENVER, Jan. 17 (UPI) — The mountain pine beetles that have been devastating forests in the western United States may have eaten their way through their food supply, scientists say.

That means Lodgepole Pine forests in Colorado and Wyoming have a chance to make a comeback, The Denver Post reported.

“I think we’ve seen the worst of it,” Sky Stephens, an entomologist with the Colorado State Forest Service, said.

Pine beetles are native to western North America. But the current outbreak, now about 15 years old, is far larger than previous ones, with some scientists blaming rising temperatures because of global warming.

Cal Wettstein, a beetle specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, said the millions of dead trees left by the beetles are a major problem.

“We’re still left with the aftermath,” Wettstein said. “We’ve got wildfire threats. The most immediate hazard right now is falling trees. We’ll have falling tree hazards for at least 10 years.”

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

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Pine Beetle Turns Trees to Carbon Emitters

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Jan. 10 (UPI) — Canadian researchers say the pine beetle has killed so many trees, the forests of British Columbia now put more greenhouse gases into the air than they store.

The experts say that has been true since 2003, The Toronto Globe and Mail reported Saturday. By last year, dead lodgepole pines had a bigger carbon footprint than the province’s human population.

By February 2008, when the province’s premier Gordon Campbell praised the forests as a sink for greenhouse gases, that was no longer true.

“We have few natural allies in our fight against climate change that are more important than our forests,” the Campbell government said in a policy speech.

The problem is that the carbon plants take in during their lives returns to the atmosphere when they decompose. The pine beetle has killed an estimated 1 billion trees, most of them expected to decay over the next half-century or so.

The pine beetle is native to North America, and many trees have natural defenses. But the most recent infestation in western Canada and the United States has been far more severe than previous ones, with experts blaming global warming.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

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