05 July, 2009

Drowning In Flies? There May Be A Reason...

If you only take home one thing from this article, let it be this quote I pulled:

""Ten years ago, we would have said, 'No way. Managed relocation is a stupid idea.' And that's because the best strategy is to reduce greenhouse gases. But we are not reducing greenhouse gases fast enough.""

Insects are one of those things we take for granted, or curse, or occasionally squish.  They are also a large and important part of the whole ecosystem, and the term "Butterfly Effect" was a reference to that.  I'm more inclined to say "Honeybee Effect" because I enjoy growing vegetables and I've been following the beehive extinctions with a bit of a shudder.  Luckily there are plenty of bees around here, and show no signs of dying off.

But if you want to try just one example of the weather changes really messing with life on the planet, try and imagine a world without bees.  It's the most obvious example, but by far not the only one - and some can be a bit unexpected...

On a recent holiday to a rainforest area just north of Albany, T. and I found ourselves enveloped in absolute clouds of bushflies.  Everywhere we went, over a huge segment of the lower southwest, it seemed there'd been a population explosion of flies.  I know a fair portion of Australia, and I knew that clouds of flies like that were unusual.  So I asked a local working at one of the forestry projects.

Turns out, those fly populations had been that high before.  Around the time that people began to introduce sheep and goats and cattle, apparently...  The flies found cowpats and other excrement to be an ideal place to lay eggs, and lived the high life enjoying crapaccinos and other muscine delights.  I am not kidding!  

The pioneer farmers started the explosion, and modern more intensive farming with more animals just kind of put the crap on the cake so to speak.  That particular region is genuine humid rainforest, so the conditions for flies are ideal.

So why were there such record numbers of flies that particular year?  (As I said, I've experienced the region in other years and that particular year was orders of magnitude type worse.)  Well, a shortage of dung beetles apparently.  Yep, the local Lands and Environment departments would buy tens of thousands of dung beetles and airdrop them over the region, the beetles would roll up the poop and their larva eat the fly larva as part of their birthday celebrations.  And that year, either there was a shortage of dung beetles and therefore a higher price for them, or the local authorities didn't have pockets as deep as usual...

Now I'm trying to imagine what the region would be like if dung beetles died off worldwide due to the changing weather, and then imagine a belt of rainforest climate sweeping up Western Australia towards Perth...

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