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New study finds ‘alarming’ 76 percent decline in insect populations

Insects are in serious danger. Insect populations have decreased by about 76 percent in nearly 30 years, according to a new study.

>> Read more trending news

Researchers from Germany recently conducted an experiment, published in PLOS One, to determine how much populations had declined and why. 

To do so, they measured the total flying insect biomass, the weight of the insect catch, by using tent-like nets called Malaise traps. Those were deployed in 63 nature protection areas in Germany over the course of 27 years. 

After analyzing the results, they found that flying insect biomass had decreased by 76 percent and up to 82 percent in the summers during the time of the study.

In fact, the scientists say their findings suggest “the entire flying insect community has been decimated over the last few decades,” the study read. 

Scientists noted the drop occurred regardless of the habitat type, but changes in weather, land use and habitat characteristic were not the reason.

»RELATED: Can this plastic-eating bug save our planet? 

Despite the unknown explanation, researchers say the dip is “alarming” as the disappearance of “field margins and new crop protection” have both been associated with insect decline.

“Loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services,” the study read. 

That’s why researchers hope to continue their studies to pinpoint the exact cause and ways to prevent it. 

“There is an urgent need to uncover the causes of this decline,” the study said, “its geographical extent, and to understand the ramifications of the decline for ecosystems and ecosystem services.”

Critics say Museum of Ice Cream’s plastic sprinkles pose environmental risks 

Environmentalists in San Francisco and Los Angeles are concerned about the effects of one feature at local Museum of Ice Cream locations: sprinkles. 

>> Read more trending news

Critics say the plastic pieces are littering California streets blocks from the pop-up museums as they’re carried out on the clothes of museum visitors. The plastic material becomes litter and has the potential to end up in the water, a danger to marine life, KABC reported. 

“My concern is that they go down the drains and into the bay, where they will be bite-sized for most fish,” San Francisco resident Johanna Sanders told the San Francisco Gate.

The Museum of Ice Cream, which opened in Los Angeles in April and San Francisco in September, is known for its colorful displays, tasty treats and Instagram-worthy photo backdrops. 

According to a Forbes description of the LA location, there’s a “gallery of suspended bananas, ... rooms of giant melted popsicles, big-as-you gummy bears and a swimming pool full of sprinkles.” The San Francisco Gate describes its local pop-up as including “a candy garden, psychedelic rainbow unicorns, a pink rock climbing wall, banana swings, an all-pink diner with a jukebox and a sprinkle pool filled with more than 100 million plastic imitation sprinkles. A circular swimming space even has pink floats and a diving board.”

Both locations feature bright pink walls and interactive exhibits.

“All of the rooms in the museum have things you can eat or smell,” KABC reported.

The museums use plastic for the sprinkles in the pools instead of real, edible ones for sanitary reasons. A spokesperson for the Museum of Ice Cream told the Gate the sprinkles are coated in “antimicrobial germ bloc.”

Museum officials said they’re working to address people’s concerns. They’re working with an environmental specialist and also instructing exiting visitors to shake off excess sprinkles at an “air shower” at the San Francisco location, according to the Gate

But even still, “guests have been putting sprinkles in their pocket(s) as a memento of their experience in the sprinkle pool,” spokeswoman Shelley Reinstein said.

Eva Holman, with the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization, said the plastic sprinkles pose risks that need to be taken more seriously. 

“If it's on the sidewalk it most likely goes into storm drains and then into the ocean,” Holman told the Gate. “(And) my 5-year-old would think it’s candy. Why wouldn’t a bird on the street think it’s something to consume?”

“Most plastic has a purpose, like bottle caps and food wrappers,” Holman said. “What is the purpose of this tiny piece of plastic other than a selfie moment?”

The Museum of Ice Cream’s Los Angeles location, originally slated to close in May, has had its close date pushed back five times due to popularity. It’s scheduled now to close in December. The San Francisco location will be open until Feb. 13, just in time for lovebirds to take their sweet someone before Valentine’s day. The museum was set to close in October, but officials extended the schedule after tickets sold out in just 18 minutes.

Read more at the San Francisco Gate.

Paris plans to ban all gas cars by 2030

France’s capital city, the world’s most visited city, according to Reuters, plans to ban all petrol and diesel-fueled vehicles by 2030, officials announced Thursday. Paris will encourage commuters who don’t walk, bike or use public transportation to switch to electric cars.

>> Read more trending news

The move is, in part, a pollution-reducing effort.

“This is about planning for the long term with a strategy that will reduce greenhouse gases,” Christophe Najdovski, a transportation policy official for the city of Paris, told France Info radio. “Transport is one of the main greenhouse gas producers ... So we are planning an exit from combustion engine vehicles, or fossil-energy vehicles, by 2030.”

According to the CBC, city officials said it was introducing a “feasible and realistic” goal of phasing out of gas vehicles instead of calling the move a “ban” on such cars.

Paris has seen significant amounts of rising air pollution in the last few years. In response, Paris Mayor Ann Hidalgo and government officials have approved “no-car zones, car-free days and fines for drivers who enter the city in cars that are more than 20 years old,” Reuters reported. Officials have also approved days of free public transportation, introduced rentable bikes and electric cars in the city and banned traffic from the popular Champs-Elysees Avenue once a month, among other measures. 

Officials hope that France as an entire country will ditch cars dependent on fossil fuels by 2040.

“This government goal affects the whole French territory, rural zones included,” a Paris City Hall statement said. “If we want to achieve this, it implies that the end of diesel and gasoline should take place several years in advance in urban areas, and particularly in big cities.”

Oxford, England, recently announced plans to ban non-electric cars from parts of the city by 2020.

Paris will host the Olympic Games in 2024. There are about 32 million household cars in France, according to the London Evening Standard.

>> Related: Los Angeles to host 2028 Summer Olympics; Paris wins 2024 Games

White roads an option to lower temperatures 

In Los Angeles, California, the city is putting out $40,000 per mile to paint some roads white in an attempt to lower their temperature.

>> Read more trending news 

The grayish-white seal coat is applied by workers with a squeegee, and is dry a day later. It reflects solar rays instead of absorbing them, as black asphalt and concrete do, thus reducing the temperature of painted roads by as much as 30 degrees, according to Curbed Los Angeles.

Large cities like Los Angeles are subject to what’s known as the heat island effect, in which the temperature of a city is raised overall by all the heat absorbed by man-made roads and surfaces, rendering it hotter than surrounding rural areas by anywhere from 1.8-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the EPA.

These white-painted roads, known as “cool pavements,” are one of five strategies outlined by the EPA to mitigate this effect. Others include planting more trees and green roofs. According to their report on cool pavements, EPA officials believe that covering 35 percent of streets with the reflective coating could reduce the overall temperature of a city by an average of one degree, which could translate to millions saved in energy costs.

RELATED: The best US cities to avoid effects of climate change, according to report

Large, bustling cities have plenty of concrete and asphalt surfaces that act as absorbers of heat. When the sun goes down, that heat can then leak out, causing the temperature to stay more elevated than it otherwise would.

Cool pavements could be a way to keep cities a little cooler in the baking heat of hot summers. And things don’t look to be cooling down any time soon. Many reports are contending the South will be hit hard with heat by climate change, becoming even hotter than it has been. According to the San Antonio Express News, San Antonio in particular is expected to see extra weeks of weather over 100 degrees.

With that kind of heat coming, it may be best to start preparing now.

RELATED: Farmers worldwide have a creative way of adapting to climate change

RELATED: American south to bear the worst of climate change, says new study

Stink bugs are back; here's how to keep the pests out of your home

The dreaded stink bugs soon will be making an all-out assault to get into our homes.

>> Watch the news report here

The cooler weather and the stink bugs go hand in hand.

The brown marmorated stink bug was first released into the United States in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1996, according to Penn State University. The bug apparently traveled from northeast Asia in a shipping container that was delivered either to the port of Philadelphia or Elizabeth, New Jersey, and then trucked to Allentown.

This insect has now spread to 44 states and has very large populations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware, Ohio, and North and South Carolina, according to stopbmsb.org. It has also spread to California and Oregon allegedly via a car driven by a person traveling from Pennsylvania to California in 2005.

According to researchers at Penn State University, this type stink bug emerges in mid- to late spring. As temperatures cool, they begin to swarm near windows, doors and other cracks of buildings seeking refuge from the coming winter. Once inside, the stink bugs enter a physiologically inactive, diapause state or state of suspended development. They emerge from this hibernation over a broad range of time, which explains why we see active adult stink bugs throughout the winter and early spring. A mass emergence from diapause occurs as daily temperatures and length of daylight increase, especially in mid- to late May.

>> Read more trending news

The ability of these stink bugs to survive is quite remarkable. While there is some mortality among the hibernating bugs in the winter, a significant percentage of them make it through to spring and then mate. Colder temperatures in northern states typically reduce the bugs survival rate, but that appears to be changing.

Increasing temperatures linked to climate change are likely a cause for such an increase in stink bug populations, especially in middle and northern latitudes. While excessive heat may drive stink bugs out of hotter, Southern states, the warm but moderate temperatures at higher latitudinal locations have increased the survival of stink bugs with significantly larger spring and summer populations. 

The good news is, other than being incredibly annoying and having a pungent smell, stink bugs are pretty harmless to humans and animals. They cannot bite or sting nor seem to carry any known diseases. To get rid of them, it is recommended to flush them or vacuum them, then throw out the vacuum bag to avoid the bugs' odor.

But using vacuum bags and water to get rid of these bugs could become costly, so it is best to prevent invasions by making sure you seal up your home now. Replace old screens and make sure doors and windows close tightly. Also caulk any gaps, cracks or holes in your homes exterior, especially on the south and west sides. These bugs can squeeze themselves quite a bit, so they can fit through even small cracks.

Unfortunately, these insects are quite destructive to agriculture. This species feeds on over one hundred different types of plants including several of great economic importance to humans. Fruit trees (especially apple and pear), soybeans and peanuts are significantly damaged by these insects. The bugs have also been found feeding on blackberry, sweet and field corn and have been known to cause damage to tomatoes, lima beans and green peppers.

There is no way to kill them by spraying, at least not once they are on the plant, because they must be hit directly. The bugs can fly off the leaves and they aren’t harmed by eating the chemicals on the leaves or on the fruit. However, researches at Penn State did find that while there are very few controlling natural predators, it appears other local predators such as spiders and some birds may be becoming more immune against the bug’s protective secretions and increasingly aware of the growing stink bug feast around them.

– Eric Elwell is WHIO's chief meteorologist. Contact him at eric.elwell@coxinc.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s almost autumn. Can you tell in South Florida?

Editor’s Note: Like fall, this story comes around annually. Parts of it have run previously, but it captures that elusive feeling of Florida fall so well that we thought we’d share it again.

 

Every year, there’s one day in mid-September when Florida’s fall arrives.

 

Officially, that day is Friday, Sept. 22, but I noticed it early one morning last week.

 

Stepping outside at about 6:30, it felt, well, not cool but slightly less oppressive. There was a breeze and the low that morning had dropped to an almost glacial 77.

 

It felt like hope.

 

When I left work that evening, it was again tolerable. Pleasant, even. And that’s when I saw fall.

 

The sky was blue instead of wearing summer white.

 

The light suddenly looked different because the sun is tracking lower in the sky. A soft golden hue had replaced summer’s kleig-light glare.

 

It looks like fall because the sun has swung noticeably south of its solstice in the northern latitudes. For a moment, day and night are almost of equal length, before the nights greedily gain on the day.

 

That’s how you know it’s fall in South Florida. The light changes long before the temperature.

 

Rejoice. The rest is coming.

 

Soon.

 

We Floridians get defensive about fall in the face of Northern fall aggression.

 

There are no colorful leaves. No brisk wind blowing chimney smoke around. No need for flannel, or down or wool.

 

If you want a chill, be prepared to write FPL a bigger check. Tropical waves are still billowing up from the Gulf and the Cape Verde Islands are still birthing alarming low pressure systems. The weekly mowing hasn’t slowed.

 

By some standards, that’s faux fall.

 

In Florida, our plants and our weather are boisterously confrontational, but the seasonal changes are milquetoasts.

 

To see them, you must be attuned to nuance.

 

Like the light.

 

When it changes, that’s a Florida fall.

 

In the weeks to come, we’ll have more dry mornings, with a fresh breeze at dawn before the heat takes over. Quivers of high-flying birds have already begun winging overhead heading thousands of miles to the south, to Central America or the Southern Caribbean, some dropping down to our yards for a night or two.

 

That’s a Florida fall, too.

 

One night, we realize we can sit outside and not sweat through our clothes. Not long after that, we realized the pool is too cool for our thin tropical blood.

 

That too, is a Florida fall.

 

We search, usually in vain, for summer clothes in darker winter colors. And gaze longingly at boots. That’s the frustrating fashion version of a Florida fall.

 

But soon boots won’t feel quite so ridiculous.

 

The median end of the rainy season in South Florida is Oct. 17, according to the National Weather Service.

 

That’s the big seasonal switch that turns on a Florida fall.

 

Not yet, but soon.

 

In the next few weeks, a cold front will likely make its first stab at the peninsula. The first few don’t usually push far enough south to comfort us, but soon.

 

Weak early fall cold fronts seem to batter against the stubborn steamy heat until one with a little more oomph finally pushes past the Keys.

 

That’s a Florida fall.

 

Soon.

Nearly 1,500 sea turtle hatchlings displaced by hurricanes to be released

Nearly 1,500 sea turtle hatchlings displaced by Hurricane Irma and Jose were set for release back into the ocean Friday.

>> Read more trending news

The newly hatched green and loggerhead turtles -- along with numerous young turtles washed back onto the beach after swimming off shore called “washbacks” -- have been turned over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, according to a Brevard Zoo release.

After Hurricane Irma: What to do if you find a sea turtle nest

The zoo said staff and volunteers from the Melbourne area began dropping off the turtles at Brevard Zoo on Monday, before the animals were taken to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton. The FWC was to put the turtles on seaweed mats off shore Friday.

Research group finds 2-headed turtle 

The University of Central Florida’s Marine Turtle Research Group found a two-headed turtle in Brevard County during its research Thursday.

>> Read more trending news 

The group excavates nests three days after the turtles hatch to determine how many eggs were laid and how many hatchlings emerged. 

Any straggler turtles are safely released into the ocean.

Read: Rare shark has even rarer two-headed offspring

During its latest research, the group found a two-headed loggerhead turtle.

Researchers said the turtle appeared to be healthy and energetic, and was released into the ocean, but not before a member of the group snapped a few photos.

Kate Mansfield, an assistant professor and lab director with the group, said her crew found a two-headed turtle on the same beach a year or two ago. She said the finding is rare, but not unheard of. 

Read: Rare two-headed python hatches, survives

Parents of 4th graders: Here’s how to get free entry to any national park this month

Trekking through some of the country’s most beautiful terrain just got cheaper. 

>> Read more trending news 

Thanks to the Department of the Interior’s Every Kid in a Park program, fourth-grade students can enter any of more than 2,000 of the nation’s national parks and other federally managed lands and waters for free for one year. 

Fourth-grade students can sign up for the free pass, valid until Aug. 31, at everykidinapark.gov.  

The first three members in a group with a visiting fourth-grader will be granted free entry as well at sites that charge per person. For those that grant payment and entry by car, any accompanying passengers in a private, non-commercial vehicle with a fourth-grader will be allowed to enter at no charge. 

>> Related: Most moms work equivalent of 2 full-time jobs, study says

Educators can also obtain free passes. 

>> Related: Seniors: Get your $10 lifetime pass for National Parks now before price hike

The Every Kid in a Park program encourages children to be active and explore nature at a time when more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas and young people are more tethered to electronic devices than ever.

According to the program, the goal of the promotion is to “inspire fourth graders nationwide to visit our federal lands and waters, whether it is a backyard city park or a national forest, seashore, or marine sanctuary. By targeting fourth graders year after year, the program works to ensure every child in the U.S. has the opportunity to visit and enjoy their federal lands and waters by the time he or she is 11 years old.”

Learn more and get a pass at everykidinapark.gov

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story reported that the pass was valid from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31, 2018. It is valid Sept. 1, 2016 to Aug. 31, 2017.

Animals marooned on Everglades tree islands are dying

High water levels in the Everglades have stranded animals on levees and tree islands, triggering emergency measures by water managers to drain flooded areas.

>> Read more trending news

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers changed its water storage rules to temporarily allow for more water to be stored in water conservation areas through the fall and into the dry season.

This is the second time this summer that heavy rainfall has forced the corps to make emergency changes to account for the high water levels.

“Heavy rain since the beginning of June have caused the water levels in the conservation areas to rise to historic levels for this time of year,” corps officials said in a statement.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner “Alligator” Ron Bergeron sent a graphic letter to the corps this week, describing the conditions of animals marooned on the tree islands, levees and spoil islands.

He said huddled on higher ground, their preferred food sources are limited and they must eat less nutritious food, which increases stress.

“Over time, fat reserves become exhausted and malnutrition and death will occur,” Bergeron said. “Extended duration high-water conditions also have detrimental long-term effects on the essential foraging and nesting habitats of federally listed species such as wood storks and snail kites.”

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