Missing bumblebee creates a big buzz

A common bumblebee that buzzed around your home a few years ago hasn’t been spotted in Canada in three years, wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 10. That’s bad news if you love insects, or the planet, or if you just love tomatoes.

The rusty-patched bumblebee was one of a half-dozen common bumblebees in the southern half of Ontario. “It was pretty common in the ’70s and ’80s, and all of a sudden it’s not found anywhere,” says Sheila Colla, a PhD candidate in biology at York University. Colla has searched through 43 sites from Ontario to Georgia, including one in Gatineau Park, to trace the bee’s history. These are all places where it used to be common. Bumblebees pollinate some plants that honeybees do not, including tomatoes, raspberries and sweet peppers. And many bumblebee numbers are declining for unknown reasons.

Why little Bombus affinis – the rusty patched bee – has buzzed off so completely is a big unknown. But Colla thinks we should take note. “Bumblebees have this buzz pollination technique where they rapidly vibrate flowers and honeybees can’t do that. So when people plant tomatoes in their backyard or cucumbers or sweet peppers, without a bumblebee you will get no fruit. Like, zero. So people are more reliant on them than they realize, because they have this behaviour that is irreplaceable by any other bees.”

Her studies find fewer bumblebees overall in Ontario than a couple of decades ago. Half the 14 species found in the 1970s are either missing or in decline.

To the biology student, bumblebees are a rainbow of diversity, shown by stripes. “Some of them are black with one yellow stripe. There’s one that is yellow-orange-orange-yellow on the abdomen. And then there’s another that’s yellow-yellow-orange-orange-orange.” All are big and fuzzy. The rusty patched is named for a single orange blob on its back. The little bee emerges in April and lives until October, when the queen hibernates and all her subjects die. In its heyday, the rusty patched represented about 15 per cent of all bumblebees someone would see on a summer day.

By 2005, searchers found 9,000 bumblebees in an annual survey, and just one of the 9,000 was a rusty patched. That one was in Pinery Provincial Park, on Lake Huron, and none has been seen in Canada since. Today it’s not extinct but the closest known specimen seems to be in Illinois, and even there it’s incredibly rare.

Star editor cites Osgoode students’ approach to Middle East tensions

If the goal is to broaden our understanding of the Middle East, then look at the quiet initiative at Osgoode Hall Law School by Jewish and Muslim students, who described their efforts in an opinion article that ran online last week, wrote Marti Regg Cohn, deputy editor, in the Toronto Star March 10. Submitted by Ahsan Mirza, head of the Muslim Law Students’ Association, with co-author Joseph Juda of the Jewish Law Students’ Association, the article bemoaned the perennial standoff on campus, compared with their own efforts at finding common ground.

“Apartheid Week only seeks to divide the campus more than it already is,” they wrote. “Debate is never futile but what goes on at York’s campus can hardly be referred to as anything resembling a debate.”

Denmark goes against European trends

Danish nationality laws are among the strictest in Europe, according to an article in Denmark’s Politiken that included comments by Willem Maas, Jean Monnet Chair in European Integration and professor of political science and public & international affairs in York’s Glendon College. Maas noted that if retaining their original nationality is not allowed, then immigrants are much less likely to naturalize, which impedes their integration.

Those poor, persecuted rich people

Canadian governments have argued that lowering taxes at the upper end spurs economic growth – even though there’s no evidence to support this contention, wrote Linda McQuaig in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star March 10.

Indeed, Canada’s top marginal tax rate was above 80 per cent from the late 1940s until 1970, and yet our annual economic growth in those years was above five per cent. In 1981, we reduced our top marginal rate to 50 per cent and yet our growth rate has averaged only 2.4 per cent since then, notes Osgoode Hall Law School tax professor Neil Brooks.

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the tentative contract agreement between General Motors and the Canadian Auto Workers on CBC Radio in Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Sydney, NS, and Halifax March 9.
  • Professor Laurence Harris, chair of York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health, and a researcher in the Centre for Vision Research at York, spoke about an experiment he is conducting with the astronauts on the International Space Station, on Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet” March 9.