When we speak of endangered species, our focus is usually on the plight of mammals. However, writes Goulson (Biological and Environmental Sciences/Univ. of Sterling; A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees, 2014, etc.), they are only a small section of the “perhaps ten-million different species,” many yet to be named, that inhabit our planet and play a critical role in maintaining its ecosystems.
In 2003, the author, founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, purchased a derelict farmhouse and 33-acre meadow in the French countryside. His aim was to transform the run-down property into a wildlife sanctuary to shelter and preserve the habitats of “the smaller, everyday creatures that live around us.” The author's professional specialty, the study of bees, prompted his involvement in efforts to determine the cause of the disastrous, worldwide decline in the honeybee population, which plays a crucial role in pollination. An early hypothesis blamed the introduction of a nicotine-based pesticide applied to seeds before planting, as a substitute for aerial spraying. Goulson and his collaborators confirmed that this wasn't the case, but they found that the reproductive rates of queen bees, which ate the nectar brought back by the worker bees, were sharply reduced. Furthermore, the worker bees exhibited cognitive problems. Equally alarming, recent evidence indicates a buildup of the pesticide in soils and waterways. The pesticide has been temporarily banned in Europe but is still in use in America. On a lighter note, the author explains how the tapping of beetles in search of a mate was once fancifully compared to the devil tapping his fingers. Their residence of choice is old timber, including that of his farmhouse, which is also home to dormice and other creatures. Though he celebrates the majority of species living on his land, disease-bearing flies, he says, are less welcome. “Go outside,” he urges readers, “look and listen.”
A charming but serious warning of the need to protect our natural ecosystems from heedless, irreversible destruction.