Pollinators: Fashion forward, but in Decline

Bees on the Chanel 2016 runway

Spring is in the air! Flowers are blooming in real life and in prints of your favorite designers. With flowers come the buzzing of bees, flies, and butterflies – important pollinators. When visiting flowers to forage on nectar and pollen, pollinators move pollen that gets stuck to their bodies from the anthers (male part of the plant) of one flower to the stigma (female part) of another, allowing for fertilization and therefore reproduction to occur. Without pollinators, many plants cannot reproduce meaning that pollinators are critical for our food supply, worth at least tens of billions of dollars for this ecosystem service.

The pollinator that usually first comes to mind is the bee. Saying “the” bee is a huge understatement, considering there are 20,000 known species and considering many are either undiscovered or undescribed, probably thousands more. The bee we are most familiar with is the honey bee, which collects nectar to make honey stored in hives to help bees survive through the winter when there are no flowering plants. Bees are really cool animals as some species have a highly evolved and complex eusocial system. In this system, there is one reproducing individual (the queen) in which all other adult members care for her and her offspring. Eusociality has been explained by kin selection for years, where individuals benefit by helping others raise young as they share genes and contribute to fitness indirectly, but more recently, scientists have proposed this system has evolved through the defense of a nest and extreme evolution.

Butterflies on the Versace runway

Bees were seen in the Chanel couture and Christian Dior Spring 2016 collections as embroidered detailing, earrings, and broaches (I cannot even tell you how much I love these looks!). Unfortunately, bees are in great need of help. The have been in decline for years due to habitat loss (see below how you can help), climate change, pesticides, and disease.

Butterflies are another well-known pollinator and also well-used by designers, especially for spring. The most iconic butterfly in the United States is the monarch butterfly, known for its incredible migration from the US to Mexico, and similar to bees, in decline. This butterfly also suffers from loss of habitat, and milkweed specifically, in which the caterpillar exclusively eats and the butterflies lay their eggs upon. Really cool citizen science (meaning you can participate in real science) opportunities exist in monarch butterfly research, resulting in peer-reviewed publications advancing the knowledge of monarchs.

Most people think of invertebrate insects when it comes to pollinators, but there are also vertebrate pollinators. Hummingbirds in the New World and similar-looking sunbirds in the Old World both feed on nectar and pollinate. Dolce & Gabbana feature a scene of these birds foraging in their spring collections (and who wouldn’t want their man in a sunbird suit?).

Dolce & Gabbana suit

My favorite pollinator is also a vertebrate, and a pretty unexpected one, the lesser long-nosed bat. You are also probably a fan of this pollinator because this bat is responsible for pollinating blue agave, which is the plant used for making tequila. Despite their importance in a drink many people love, bats tend to be hated (undeservedly so) by people. This bat has therefore suffered because of it and was endangered for years in Mexico. However, due to the amazing dedication of “Bat Man” scientist Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, the endangered species designation of this species was reversed, making a conservation success story for this unlikely pollinator. Medellin is a true conservationist and worked hard to educate the public on the importance of this bat to Mexico’s economy and heritage, find new roosts, and restore habitat. His story is told in the BBC documentary “Natural World: The Batman of Mexico,” which I highly recommend. The lesser long-nosed bat is back to pollinating blue agaves and making sure there is plenty of tequila for Mexicans and the world to enjoy. Fashion designers need to take note of the Bat Man’s ability to promote this flagship species and create some cool bat-inspired fashions (I could only find one, a gothic bat dress by Giles).

Bat dress from Giles 2014

There are far too many pollinators for one blog post, which truly showcases their importance worldwide. Others include monkeys, lemurs, possums rodents, wasps, ants, flies, moths, beetles, lizards and snakes. However, the unfashionable trend of pollinators is that most are in decline. Even if you don’t care about conservation, you should care about your food supply. One way you can have an impact is by creating pollinator-friendly habitat where you live, and don’t underestimate your neighborhood. A recent study found that bees actually preferred foraging in urban gardens over forests. This is especially important for migrating pollinators so they can have food sources when they stop along their long journey. On your next stop to your home or garden store, make sure to pick up some native plants that please pollinators to help support their conservation.

Visiting a tequila factory in Guadalajara, Mexico. Agaves behind me!

This post was originally featured on The Wildlife SNPits. All photos are courtesy of Vogue.

Misidentified Spots: You’re Really Wearing Jaguar Print

Previous fashion files talked feline prints leopard and cheetah, both commonly heard and used in fashion chat. But what about jaguar print? This phrase doesn’t quite roll of the tongue, but actually a lot (maybe even most) of the prints we wear give leopards credit, but are really inspired by jaguars.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) are the biggest cat species of the new world, ranging from South America to the most southern points of the US near the Mexican border. Jaguars are in the genus Panthera, and therefore most closely related to lions and leopards. Similar to the leopard, jaguars have rosette “spots”, but inside the rosettes, you will also see another black spot. Variation occurs in these big cats, so in some individuals, the difference will be more prominent (you will see the dot easily), while in others it may be more difficult to see. Also, within a jaguar coat, not all of the rosettes will have spots inside, and this will also vary between individuals; some will have a lot of rosettes with black spots, while others will have mostly empty rosettes. Like leopards, there can be melanistic jaguars, making them appear all black (colloquially “black panther”).

Jaguar on left, leopard on right. Photos from eMammal.

Jaguars are extremely elusive. If you go on safari in Africa, your chances of seeing a cheetah are pretty good. A leopard, is more difficult to spot, but many tourists still see them. Jaguars, on the other hand, are hardly ever seen, even by those who study them intensely. I recently attended a talk by Dr. Marcella Kelly at Virginia Tech, who studies these cats with camera traps, and despite spending years in jaguar habitat, has only seen them several times. This largely has to do with their forested habitat and secretive behavior.

Studying Jaguars

Camera traps, specialized cameras triggered by heat and motion, are one of the few and best ways to study these elusive animals. If your camera trap is set up in a jaguar’s home range and the individual passes by (some scientists use Calvin Klein Obsession to lure them), it will snap a photo of it stamped with the time and date. In another method, non-invasive genetics, the scientist tries to find jaguar scat (poop) to be used as a source of DNA. Finding jaguar scat in a rainforest is the quintessential needle in a haystack, which is why researchers like Dr. Karen DeMatteo, use canine companions to find the scat. These dogs can be trained to not only find jaguar scat, but also other cats and carnivores (ocelots, bush dogs, pumas). Given that dogs can walk a lot more than humans, they can also cover more ground.

Camera trap photo of jaguar from eMammal.

Through camera trapping and genetic methods, you can identify individuals. In camera traps, capturing a clear image of the spots lets you be able to tell the individual because each jaguar has a unique spot pattern. Genetic methods also allow you to identify individuals because each jaguar has unique DNA. According to Kelly, camera traps are better for capturing more individuals in the population. However, genetic methods offer advantages that camera traps do not. For example, you can infer patterns of dispersal and connectivity, which has important implications for conservation, especially since jaguar habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented.

Conservation

The jaguar is near threatened on the IUCN Redlist and inhabits only 46% of its original range. One of the largest threats to jaguars is deforestation, which not only removes habitat for this large-ranging species, but also exposes individuals more to humans, making them more susceptible to poaching. Due to the success of anti-fur campaigns in the United States and the initiation of CITES, poaching for fur is no longer a large incentive. Rather competition for prey species (leopards and people hunt the same animals) and retaliation for or the fear of them killing livestock are the main drivers. As deforestation increases, it will be more difficult for individuals to move between protected areas due to poaching and other barriers such as roads, and therefore populations will become more vulnerable to the effects of genetic isolation like inbreeding.

Fashion

Like leopard print, jaguar print is extremely versatile. If you want a bolder, more dramatic look, wear a large garment (e.g. coat, dress, pants) and for extra drama, add high contrast colors. If you are more demure, have the jaguar print be in a scarf, bag, or your shoes. Also similar to leopard print, you can combine jaguar with a range of colors. If you are not as adventurous, you can wear mostly neutrals (tans, black and white), or combine with pops of colors; red always is a great addition, but don’t forget about green, blue, purple. You want to choose brighter, stronger colors when combining with jaguar print because the print acts as a neutral and you don’t want the other colors to get washed in with the look.

Jaguar print was strong on the 2017-18 runway, Dolce & Gabbana. Photos from Vogue.

This post was originally created on the Wildlife SNPits.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Whose Spots are You Wearing? Species Identifications of Animal Prints

Leopard print on the runway, Badly Mischka, Photos from Vogue Magazine

I have a pet peeve. About a year ago, I was scrolling through Pinterest and came across a Diane Von Furstenburg pin of a print used in her collection. The print resembled a clouded leopard, but when I clicked on the photo, it took me to a snow leopard photo, with natural history and conservation information about that species. I was so excited to see this connection to the animal itself, but was disappointed that the information was wrong.

All spotted prints are not the same! Being a fashionista, but also a scientist (especially a mammalogist), I actually care if people get the animal right. Even better, if they know something about the animal. Combining my love of fashion and animals, fellow blogger Emily Puckett and I are both writing a series of blogs focused on the animals behind the apparel you wear.

This first post is on the most classic print. So classic, some call it a neutral: leopard print. Leopards (Panthera pardus) and jaguars look very similar, and if you were to see one of these cats in the wild, you could immediately tell them apart be location. If you see a large, stocky, spotted cat in Central/South America, it’s a jaguar, but if you are in Africa or Asia, it’s a leopard. Fashion, however, has no geographic limitations and therefore you have to look closely at the spots to tell them apart. Leopard coats are tawny with black rosettes (spots). The insides of the rosettes are a darker shade of the coat, and closer to the legs and head the rosettes are filled in completely. There are some leopards that are melanastic, meaning they have high levels of melanin in their pigment from a mutation, creating the illusion of a completely black cat (“black panther”). This is not a different species, and they still have black rosettes albeit against a near-black coat, making it difficult to see the rosettes. If you look closely and have good light, you can make them out.

Regular (left) and melanistic leopard (right). Note you can still make out the rosettes. 

Despite their coats looking similar to, and often being confused with jaguars and cheetahs (to be covered in future posts), leopards are most closely related to lions, which obviously have no spots. Leopards are one of the five big cat species in the genus Panthera along with lions, tiger, jaguar, and snow leopard. These cats underwent an early, rapid radiation about ∼3-4 million years ago with the split of lions and leopards in the Pleistocene era, and split of jaguars from lion/leopards near the Plio-Pleistocene boundary. Note that cheetahs, Acinonyx jubatus, which also look similar to leopards in terms of their coat are not even in the genus as leopards meaning they are much more distantly related.

Maximum likelihood tree of Panthera with clouded leopard as an outgrip. From Davis et al. 2010

Leopards have the largest range of all of the big cat species, spanning across Africa and southern Asia. Although locally common in areas, as a species, they are declining (status is near threatened on the IUCN Red List). Leopards suffer from habitat loss due to human development, but unlike most big cats and even large mammals, can actually live alongside even pretty large human populations if there are enough hiding spots and prey. This close proximity to humans though brings leopards one of their largest threats, conflict. Leopards can predate upon livestock, and therefore are directly targeted by humans to prevent these losses. Some of the ways people kill leopards is through poisoning carcasses.

Despite all of the gorgeous faux prints designers create, leopards surprisingly are still targeted for skins. This is a serious a threat, as they are traded in central and West African countries and used in traditional rituals such as those in South Africa. The rise of leopard print was largely in response to a real leopard coat worn by First Lady Jackie Kennedy. When other women wanted to copy this exotic ensemble, leopard and other spotted cat populations plummeted. The initiation of organizations like the Endangered Species Act and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) help protect these animals from being killed and traded on such a large scale. And as Jackie O’s look was ultra chic despite the negative conservation and ethical connotations, it was a win-win for designers to turn to faux prints for fashion. The prints worn today are representations of the actual furs that people used to wear, and to continue this trend of faking it to help leopard populations, visit IFakeIt.org and snap a photo of yourself wearing leopard print with the hashtag #IFakeIt.

You really can wear leopard print with almost anything, which is why it is considered a neutral. I love pairing it with bright colors, especially red. If you are not sure, the best bets are blacks, tans, or browns that will match parts of the print. If you are not used to wearing prints, leopard can feel overwhelming. To get started with leopard, try using it in a small accessory, like a scarf or shoes. Even these small flashes of leopard will have maximum fashion impact.

Scientists typically aren’t thought of as being fashionistas, but as you will find from my future posts that fashion actually finds a lot of inspiration from nature, especially animals. If you wear it, why not know about the animal behind your print?

*This post was originally posted on the Wildlife SNPits.

Leopard print on the runway, Badly Mischka, Photos from Vogue Magazine

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave