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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Coal: The Biodiversity Fuel

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 23, 2013

Paradise for a strange new world.

Paradise for a strange new world.

Before we get started, a warning. What you’re about to read is going to sound at first like something cooked up by the same folks who gave us the oxymoronic (and otherwise moronic) advertising slogan “Clean Coal.” It will sound like a fantasy story even a Fox News anchor would not dare announce: “Coal—The Biodiversity Fuel.”

In a paper being published in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers in the Czech Republic, who have been studying bees and wasps, report that some of that country’s endangered species, including four insects that had been presumed regionally extinct, have turned up instead thriving in the fly ash heaps at coal-fired power plants.

Fly ash, as the paper helpfully explains, is what’s left over after a power plant burns coal, and it’s composed of “glass-like particles of mineral residua which are carried out of the boiler in the flow of exhaust gases,” plus bottom ash, boiler slag, and “flue gas desulphurization materials.” To be clear, the “fly” in “fly ash” is not a reference to insects; rather, it has to do with the fact that the substance is so light and fine that it flies up during combustion.

The study found 227 species of bees and wasps, including 35 that were endangered or critically endangered, living at two power plant sites. Some of these insects are important pollinators, and others may be valuable as predators and parasitoids for controlling agricultural pests.

To  read the rest of this story click here.

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