Most of the world's plant species rely on animals to transfer their pollen to other plants. The undisputed queen of these animal pollinators is the bee, made up of about 30,000 species worldwide, whose daily flights aid in the reproduction of more than half of the world's flowering plants.
In recent years, however, an unprecedented and unexplained decline in bee populations across the U.S. and Europe has placed the health of ecosystems and the sustainability of crops in peril.
In an oral session at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, an interdisciplinary group of scientists will explore the problem of bee habitat loss at a broad scale to determine what can be done to preserve bees in their native habitats. The session, titled "The Landscape-Scale Ecology of Pollinators and Pollination," will include scientists in the fields of computer science, mathematics and ecology from institutions in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
The most recent and headline-capturing phenomenon, known as colony collapse disorder, is characterized by the disappearance of adult honeybees from beekeeper hives, leaving behind bee larvae with no caretakers. The bee decline is particularly unnerving for farmers because an estimated 80 percent of all food crops are pollinated by honeybees and their wild cousins. Stymied scientists have proposed a host of reasons for managed honeybee declines, including climate change, parasites, diseases, overexposure to pesticides and loss of suitable habitat; most researchers believe that a combination of these factors is responsible. In this oral session, scientists turn their attention to native, wild bees to determine whether they are undergoing – or might undergo – the same decline.
One of the session's organizers, Neal Williams of Bryn Mawr College, hopes that the session will result in the synthesis of ideas from many disciplines. "We want to know: Can we look at landscape models in a predictive way and use those to inform us about natural populations and how they deliver pollinator services to crops?" he asks.
Rachael Winfree of Rutgers University is particularly interested in the health of native bees as "biological insurance" against the decline of honeybees. "Over half of the world's native plants require animal pollinators, and most of those are bees," she says. "Native pollinators are serving as a backup plan for the honeybee."
Winfree will present a study that combines data from over 50 published studies of bee population sizes and diversity. She found that in areas of extreme fragmentation due to human development, animal grazing, logging and crop fields, bee populations were smaller and the number of bee species was lower than in natural or minimally disturbed areas.
Scientists are also using technological methods to further understand bee communities. Daniel Chalk, a graduate student at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, used an artificial intelligence computer model to predict flight patterns of wild bumblebees. His model is useful because it can predict how bees would forage, or look for food resources, in different landscapes.
"Crucially, our model is able to predict the behavior of bees in larger-scale foraging environments, where the foraging patches can be thought of as large fields of crops," says Chalk. His model, he says, could help scientists understand how land disturbance caused by humans affects bee species richness and density.
Williams used an experimental approach to understand the landscape-scale ecology of native bumblebees. He and his colleagues established 38 bee colonies across central California, ranging from undisturbed chaparral to organic and conventional farms. During the course of the summer months, they found that the further a colony was from natural areas, the fewer worker bees it sustained. Williams' team also found that bees always collected pollen from both crops and native plants. Since crop fields aren't in bloom for the entire bee active season, Williams says, the bees need an adequate alternative source of nectar and pollen, and may travel several kilometers to find it. Therefore, a mosaic landscape that has natural areas mixed in with agriculture is important to keep bee colonies healthy.
"Today's landscape is both natural and managed," says Williams. "It's not just matrix of natural areas with agriculture mixed in, but a patchwork quilt with animals using all of the areas in the landscape."
Christine Buckley | EurekAlert!
Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society
Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy