Monday, March 3, 2014

How Bees Harvest Plastic Waste for Building Materials


Some Canadian bees have found plastic trash makes for a decent building material.

In a study published in the journal Ecosphere, a team at the University of Guelph in Ontario discovered bees making their homes out of bits of plastic waste. 

It’s an encouraging finding for J. Scott Maclvor, the lead author on the paper and a student at York University, because it shows the bees adapting to an environment dominated by humans and their piles of junk. 

Of the many synthetic materials humans have thrown to the wind, plastic proves especially vexing. It’s strong, durable and cheap, meaning that consumers are all too willing to send it to a landfill, leave it on the side walk or mix beads of it into cosmetic products bound for waterways. Some of those plastic compounds can linger in ecosystems for decades. 

Still, only a handful of animals have been seen putting the material to use. Geese, swans and other birds take pieces of plastics for their nests. The study only cites one other sting-less bee making off with some wet paint, presumably to freshen up her hive.
The sudden abundance of plastic could create a new branch in the evolutionary tree, separating city-dwelling bees who have learned to work with the material from their country cousins.
 To see if bees might be using plastic on the sly, the scientists set up a number of “trap nests” in Toronto. 

Maclvor observed a grey goop in the nest of one species (Megachile campanulae) that usually uses tree resin to build its honeycomb brood cells. While Maclvor first guessed the mysterious substance was chewing gum, analysis under an electron microscope revealed it to be a common calk or building sealant.

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