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Scientists buzzing over whether blueberry fields pose a health risk to bees




VANCOUVER—Most of the honeybees were still snug in their hives when the pickups rolled quietly past the farmhouse and onto the Delta, B.C. blueberry field.

The sun was hiding just below the horizon and the telltale buzz of the bees was subdued.

Researchers in a study lead by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are trying to understand why honeybees appear to be getting sick after too much time spent pollinating blueberry crops.
Researchers in a study lead by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are trying to understand why honeybees appear to be getting sick after too much time spent pollinating blueberry crops.  (Jesse Winter / StarMetro Vancouver)

Researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of British Columbia had risen well before dawn to catch the bees at home — before they set out for a long day of pollinating the delicate white flowers that dotted each bush.

This relationship, between the bees and the blueberries, is critical for the berry industry, and growers — like beekeepers — are keen to find out what might be ailing the bees.

Each spring growers pay beekeepers thousands of dollars to bring hives into their fields for a few weeks of pollination.

If the bees do their job right, the flowers turn into plump blueberries ripe for the picking.

The future of that arrangement was called into question earlier this year by some B.C. beekeepers who worried that weeks in the blueberry fields were making their honeybees sick.

Some threatened to stop offering pollination services for blueberries altogether. Though, in the end, many beekeepers did take their bees to the fields, in some cases, it cost the growers a premium.

A honeybee is seen on a blueberry flower in a field in Delta, B.C.
A honeybee is seen on a blueberry flower in a field in Delta, B.C.  (Jesse Winter/StarMetro Vancouver)

Honeybee health isn’t just important for beekeepers and blueberry growers. The tiny buzzers are a significant economic contributor for the province. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the bees contribute $538 million to B.C.’s economy through crop pollination alone — not to mention their importance for food security. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 per cent of global crops that produce fruit or seeds for food rely in part on pollinators.

In response to ongoing concern, researchers from Agriculture Canada undertook a new study in partnership with the National Bee Diagnostic Centre, UBC and the British Columbia Honey Producers’ Association this spring and with financial support from the BC Blueberry Council.

They wanted to find out if honeybees really were worse off after blueberry pollination, why that might be, and what beekeepers and growers could do to keep the bees bustling.

Over the course of the spring and early summer, the team studied colonies managed by five beekeepers that pollinated blueberries and, as a control, colonies managed by one of those beekeepers that didn’t pollinate blueberries.

They watched for population shifts, signs of disease and differences in hive-management techniques.

Twice during the study period, the team, which was led by Agriculture Canada research scientist Marta Guarna, visited the bee colonies to collect samples of bees, bee brood or babies, pollen, and honey. A third assessment focused on the brood alone.

In May the researchers gathered population data and samples of bees, larvae, pollen and honey for analysis. Their day started before dawn.
In May the researchers gathered population data and samples of bees, larvae, pollen and honey for analysis. Their day started before dawn.  (Jesse Winter/StarMetro Vancouver)

StarMetro joined the team for their second assessment of Julia Common’s bee colonies in late May. By that point, the honeybees were already weeks into their blueberry pollination work.

Common, Hives for Humanity’s chief beekeeper, was particularly concerned about the risks blueberry pollination posed to her bees after she was forced to kill millions of sickly bee babies last year.

Today, she’s feeling much more optimistic. This year, she said, “the bees came out of the blueberries and they did their typical dive, but I was way ahead of the curve.”

As soon as she moved the beehives from the blueberry fields she gave them extra food and took other steps to help build the colonies back up. She still had losses, but nothing as bad as last year.

“They then went to do very well on pumpkins and make honey,” she said.

Jeff Pettis, a former lead researcher at a U.S. Departure of Agriculture bee lab, collects samples of adult bees in jar from a hive in Delta B.C.
Jeff Pettis, a former lead researcher at a U.S. Departure of Agriculture bee lab, collects samples of adult bees in jar from a hive in Delta B.C.  (Jesse Winter/StarMetro Vancouver)

It’s the dive Common mentioned that the researchers were investigating back in May when they arrived to collect their second set of data.

They kept their voices low as they stepped into their white bee suits, zipped their screened hoods closed, and pulled on purple lab gloves.

Their early morning task, Guarna explained, was to estimate the adult bee population of each colony.

“Once they start flying, we don’t know how many have gone and how many are there,” she said, explaining the early hour.

It was just past five when the team fanned out, each setting up at a different hive.

Not quite in unison, the researchers puffed smoke around the hives to help keep the bees calm and lifted their lids. Then they slid a slim piece of metal between the wooden frames and pulled one free.

Bee expert Marta Guarna examines a frame of honeybees. She is the lead researcher from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on a new study that seeks to understand why bees appear to be getting sick after pollinating blueberry crops.
Bee expert Marta Guarna examines a frame of honeybees. She is the lead researcher from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on a new study that seeks to understand why bees appear to be getting sick after pollinating blueberry crops.  (Jesse Winter/StarMetro Vancouver)

The researchers used a divided grid to estimate the adult bee population on each frame. They assess what proportion of the frame is covered in bees and call it out as an eighth to the team member tasked with recording the data.

“Marta, six and seven, frame two,” calls out Guarna. She gives two numbers, one for each side of the frame.

One by one, the researchers follow suit.

“Abbi, three and two, frame three,” said Abbi Chapman, an undergraduate research assistant from UBC.

“Jeff, six and six, frame four,” said Jeff Pettis, the former head of a U.S. Department of Agriculture bee lab, who’s consulting on the project.

By the time the sun rose, brimming the trees in a golden light, there was a chorus of chirping birds and buzzing bees behind each number sounded off.

And, as the bees grew livelier, the research team moved on to task No. 2.

Researchers collect samples of bee bread, layers of pollen collected by bees for protein. The samples will be analyzed for possible chemical contamination.
Researchers collect samples of bee bread, layers of pollen collected by bees for protein. The samples will be analyzed for possible chemical contamination.  (Jesse Winter/StarMetro Vancouver)

Hive-by-hive they collected adult bees by the jar, honey by the tube and used wooden stir sticks to lever layers of pollen, called bee bread, from cells in the comb. Any bee brood that looked unhealthy was taken too.

As Guarna, Higo and their crew wrapped up their field work for the day, the bees were just settling into work, flitting between the flowers.

In the months ahead, the samples will be analyzed for chemical contamination and pathogens. They’ll investigate differences in bee management, and whether the colonies provided with extra protein stayed healthier.

One goal, said Higo, is to find strategies that both beekeepers — who could adjust the way they manage their colonies like Common did this year — and growers can implement to help keep pollinators in good health.

Much more analysis is needed before the team can issue any conclusive results, but they do have some preliminary findings.

Researchers colllect samples of honey from bee hives in Delta, B.C. The honey will be analyzed for chemical contamination.
Researchers colllect samples of honey from bee hives in Delta, B.C. The honey will be analyzed for chemical contamination.  (Jesse Winter/StarMetro Vancouver)

On Saturday, Guarna and her research partners presented these at the British Columbia Honey Producers’ Association annual conference — the same day B.C. Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham announced an additional $50,000 in funding for BeeBC, a program that supports community-based initiatives to protect bee health.

Early results indicate European Foulbrood-like symptoms were found in both colonies that pollinated blueberries and those that didn’t.

However, the researchers found the symptoms, which resemble the common bacterial disease EFB and affect bee babies, appeared more prevalent in the colonies that pollinated blueberries, Guarna told StarMetro in an email.

“This observation indicates that beekeepers’ concerns merit further investigation both by an in-depth analysis of the field data and the samples collected in this study — and by conducting a larger study comparing several sites in and outside blueberries,” she said.

Further scientific results may be a little ways off, but for Common, there’s been a major positive outcome already — the collaboration between beekeepers, scientists and blueberry growers all invested in keeping the honeybees healthy.

“It’s very exciting,” she said.

Ainslie Cruickshank is a Vancouver-based reporter covering the environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ainscruickshank


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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