Coal plant waste heaps provide homes for endangered bees

Endangered insects are taking refuge in waste heaps from coal combustion plants, according to a study in Biological Conservation.

Many bees and wasps prefer to live in sand dunes, but much of this habitat has vanished from Europe. The study authors wondered if fly ash deposits — piles of fine residue left over from coal combustion — might offer the bugs a new home. Other researchers had looked for plants and fungi in these waste heaps, but not for insects.

The team searched two fly ash deposits in the Czech Republic and found 227 bee and wasp species. About one-third of the species were endangered or vulnerable, and four were thought to have disappeared from the region.

“Without denying the high environmental and human health risks posed by fly ash,” the authors write, “our findings indicate that these wastelands, unexpectedly, provide vital refuges for an unusually high representation of declining species… these industrial barrens now represent their last chance to survive in human-altered regions such as Central Europe.” — Roberta Kwok | 16 May 2013

Source: Tropek, R. et al. 2013. Is coal combustion the last chance for vanishing insects of inland drift sand dunes in Europe? Biological Conservation doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2013.03.027.

Image © Kodda | Shutterstock.com

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