A female leaf-cutter bee is photographed next to a piece of leaf and pieces of green plastic that it was found carrying. Photo courtesy Pensoft Publishers / Dr Sarah Gess.
A female leaf-cutter bee is photographed next to a piece of leaf and pieces of green plastic that it was found carrying. Photo courtesy Pensoft Publishers / Dr Sarah Gess.

Dubai desert bee discovered using green plastic instead of leaves for nest



DUBAI // A bee using green plastic instead of leaves to build a nest has highlighted the impact of discarded human rubbish on wildlife.

Researchers said the discovery of a female leafcutter bee at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve using near-identical short, narrow strips of plastic was “quite surprising”.

Typically, the bees use pieces of leaf for the construction of a brood cell, the structure in which pollen and nectar is stored and an egg laid.

The study was conducted by Dr Sarah Gess of Albany Museum and Rhodes University, South Africa, and Peter Roosenschoon, a conservation officer at the reserve, which lies about 65 kilometres from Dubai city, and a co-author of a paper on the findings.

“Plastic rubbish is part of our environment right now, which sometimes gets confused for leaves,” he said.

The bee involved, Megachile patellimana, belongs to the Megachilinae subfamily.

In the paper, the senior author, Dr Gess, and Mr Roosenschoon said the “tough green plastic” strips were “clearly a substitute for leaves”.

They describe how a female bee was captured while carrying into a burrow in the bank of an irrigation furrow a plastic strip about 10mm long, 2mm wide and almost 1mm thick, while a further half dozen similar strips were found in the nest “grouped together in an apparent attempt to construct a cell”.

“The cutting of the tough plastic would have been possible by using the large, robustly and acutely toothed mandibles [jaws],” the authors wrote.

Using plastic instead of leaf is probably not a good thing in terms of producing a nest that functions well.

“It’s unlikely the bee would’ve been able to make a cell using these narrow, stiff pieces of plastic,” said Dr Gess.

Although describing the use by bees of plastic as “very unusual”, she said that it had been recorded before. In one case in Canada, fragments of plastic bags were used. These, being flexible and therefore able to be folded around to form proper cells, would probably have been “a better substitute for leaves” than the rigid plastic in the UAE study.

The use of artificial materials is seen more widely in the animal kingdom, said Mr Roosenschoon.

“There’s a lot of rubbish in the area. It was a big surprise the bees will take it but, on the other hand, other animals use plastic to make their nests – birds do it, rodents have been known to carry plastic to their burrows,” he said.

The researchers are unsure where the green plastic came from, although a nearby camel farm is one possible source.

Another female M patellimana bee carrying, as expected, a leaf piece was captured at a different site in the reserve where it was nesting in compacted sand at the base of a plant.

The nesting behaviour of two other Megachilinae species, both in galleries above ground and constructing their cells from resin and sand, are also described in the study, which is published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research. As well as bees, the Hymenoptera order of insects includes sawflies, wasps and ants.

As knowledge of the nesting behaviour of the three species featured in the paper was fragmentary, the paper contributes to a better understanding of the evolutionary relationships of megachiline bees.

Fieldwork for the study was carried out in April and May 2015, although the details of the nesting behaviour have just been published in the paper, titled Notes on the Nesting of Three Species of Megachilinae in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, UAE.

Last year, the same authors published a more substantial paper, also in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, on the flower visiting patterns in bees and wasps in the reserve.

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Industry: FinTech
Funding: $750,000 as of March 2023
Investors: Angel investors

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

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“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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Soft power is, at its root, the ability to convince other states to do what you want without force. 
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