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Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

Soybean aphids piling up in a spider web

Soybean aphids piling up in a spider web

It’s been snowing aphids the past few days here in Champaign-Urbana. Trillions of them are drifting across town, settling out on our garden, getting caught in our hair. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I recently learned that this sternorrhynchan storm is composed of soybean aphids (Aphis glycines). That would explain all the aphid biomass. Illinois is a major producer of soy, and there’s no shortage of soy fields around here. Sensing the end of summer, the aphids are moving en masse to their winter host, buckthorn.

AphisGlycines2

Soy has traditionally been easy to grow in North America as it lacked any major insect pests. Until about 10 years ago, that is. That’s when the first soybean aphids, an Asian species, showed up in Wisconsin. Given the sheer numbers of these insects, I can’t imagine this bodes well for soy yields this year.

AphisGlycines3

***update (9/21): I’ve added an Aphid FAQ

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Mycocepurus smithi, in the fungus garden

An exciting week for ant aficionados! A new study by ant phylogenetics gurus Ted Schultz and Se├ín Brady provides the first detailed picture of attine evolution. These New World ants have long attracted the attention of biologists because they, like our own species, practice a well-developed form of agriculture. Instead of plants, these ants grow fungi, and their relationship is so specialized that the ants can consume nothing else. Schultz and Brady use data from four nuclear genes, the fossil record, and the biology of extant ants to infer an evolutionary history for 65 attine species. I’ve distilled their results (with the help of Mesquite) into a summary figure:

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