Newly discovered giant creatures in Europe

Written by Staff Writer

Nick Baron, CNN

The emergence of pungent plant-eating vulture bees on forests in the Swiss Alps are a new reminder of our role in the impact of climate change on habitats worldwide.

The newly discovered insect species, named Eliodectes aggrekettoor mothuensis and dubbed the Beasts of the Alps, eats fungi, bacteria and even insects. The bee has an extra helping of guts, hidden in its abdomen, known as a bivourant, to accept a flying belly full of droppings.

As some scientists have shown, the bees may play a role in another, far more benign, side to how climate change is impacting habitats — by gobbling up carbon, a natural purveyor of free energy, if plants go to ground.

Eliodectes apertos in Mallorca, Spain.

Eliodectes apertos in Mallorca, Spain.

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If the bees survive and reproduce, then the genes they produce could be vital to the rebuilding of the delicate underground ecosystems that support other insects.

But Charles Hosmer, curator of invertebrate zoology at the Smithsonian Institution, explains that the bees aren’t the only ones to adapt to new habitats.

The trees are too…

Cyrus the Bull is photographed in the forest surrounding Mount Anacapri on the outskirts of Naples, Italy.

This bromeliad species “is one of the most abundant on the Iberian Peninsula,” he said. “It’s probably the most adapted organism on the continent.”

Hosmer explained that the barkes cambius, or deer-bear trees, were far more common in western Europe hundreds of years ago, but have been decimated by gypsy moths. The caterpillars that devour the trees thrive in the heat and humidity of climate change, while the deer in the wild (while suffering disproportionately from our presence) become much less willing to chew on the berries, another major source of food.

Hungry beasts

Two bears swim over frozen ponds on the popular resort island of Sakhalin.

Bruce Betts, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, said that from the whale-eating Songeds of the Antarctic to the water-feeding Beaver in the Canadian province of Manitoba, more species were adapting to their increasingly cramped ranges.

“The marine animals are much better adapted to the ocean, many species of whales have gone extinct in the past due to human activity. So they’re more at risk from human threats, but other organisms are being adapted.”

“The ocean on the other hand is colder and changes in the climate mean that certain animals, such as wolverines, can thrive much better on the ice. In places like Greenland they’re going to become a staple food. They’re going to be much better adapted. So there are more examples of that happening than even where animals are starving.”

Betts explained that other animals that managed to adapt to their environments included the previously unknown “Dustobacter” crab found in forests in Maine, the Cycloprasaur tarsis and the Cedaria heterorcis (a butterfly-like insect found in Sri Lanka).

“One of the most effective ways of adapting to climate change is that even though species are eating less, they’re adapting their biology. So there are species that grow and therefore they can adjust their behaviors and growth, so they’re better off and they have better odds of adapting.”

Destabilizing climate

Several scientists are predicting the extinction of dinosaurs, another example of a climate-compatible species that went extinct due to human activity.

Juan Gregorio, research professor at Carlos III University of Madrid, wrote a book on this subject, “On the Extinction of Human Species.” The prolific author explained that some of the reasons behind the disappearance of humans were “the impact of climate change and the failure of an ecosystem. Changes in temperature and rainfall, unsustainable farming,” and so on.

“Those sorts of factors are going to have a very big impact on some of these species. And maybe with this shifting environment more species are going to become extinct than with the extinction of humans,” Gregorio said.

He referenced two very recent examples of poor adaptation: the Alien potato, the well-known invasive asparagus in Australia and the Southwest strawberry (also an invasive species).

The Alien potato was created by the planting of seeds from seed (some dating back as far as 30 million years ago) that were taken from the Mexican chain of lakes of Tuxtla Gutierrez, back to the Aztec nation. The modified potato was welcomed as a much-needed food source, until the climate pushed the potato below freezing and the potato couldn’t handle the low temperature and sub-frozen earth.

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