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The Government Takes Action On Declining Honeybee Populations

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Honeybees are a crucial part of the American agricultural system. By flying around from plant to plant, they pollinate a third of everything we eat here in the United States—everything from nuts to produce to coffee. In one year alone, 2010, the bees helped foster the growth of more than $19 billion worth of crops. And even in this modern age, technology can't unseat the honeybee.

"You can't replace bees with a microrobot or an iPod or an app or anything," Sam Droege, a honeybee expert at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, told National Geographic. We are completely dependent on bugs to retain the human race."

But for a few years now, the honeybees have been disappearing. In fact, in the last decade, more than half of all managed honeybee colonies have abruptly died off from a combination of pesticides, fungicides, and viruses that affect the seven known species of honeybee. And they're not the only ones suffering drastic population decline. Other insect pollinators, including various butterfly species, along with the charismatic monarch butterfly—although monarchs don't pollinate plants—are also rapidly disappearing. And that's bad news for the American environment and agricultural economy.

The problem has become serious enough to warrant executive action. Earlier this week, the White House announced a new plan of action to address the health of our country's pollinators, which an interagency task force will oversee.

"The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment," U.S. President Barack Obama wrote in a memorandum.

On Tuesday, the task force released its "National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators" [PDF]. The plan has three goals: Reduce winter mortality in honeybees to less than 15 percent in 10 years, increase the population of monarchs to 225 million butterflies wintering in a 15-acre property in Mexico, and restore 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next 5 years.

Experts disagree on how successful this 64-page plan will turn out to be.

"I don't think a President has ever made any kind of proclamation or statement about an insect before, pest or otherwise. It really shows how far we have come as a society," says Droege. But he worries that the real roadblock to saving the bees is our lack of understanding of them. Of the 4,000 bee species that are known to exist in North America, one-tenth of those don't even have names yet.

Meanwhile, Lori Ann Burd, director of the Environmental Health program at the Center for Biological Diversity, worries the plan fails to fully address the impact of pesticides.

"Countless studies have already found that pesticides, and particularly neonicotinoid insecticides, are a leading cause of pollinator declines," she said in a statement.  "Our bees can't wait for more reports and evaluations. We need to save them by banning neonicotinoids, and especially neonicotinoid seed treatments, right now."

Though the plan may not go far enough for some, it's a step in the right direction, and couldn't have come at a moment too soon.

[h/t National Geographic]

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Martin Wittfooth
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Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
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Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

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