Bees have pollen preferences, and we've wiped out many of their favorite flowers

Over the years we've written dozens and dozens of articles about bees, our small yellow and black friends that are so essential to the proper balance of our planet's ecosystems (via pollination). There's no doubt about it, bees have been having a rough time lately (especially because of the somewhat mysterious colony collapse disorder problem). Parasites, pesticides, habitat destruction... And now they apparently can't even find their favorite snacks anymore. How bad can it be?

Humans have been modifying the landscape on a large scale since the invention of agriculture, and this has only accelerated since the industrial revolution. This means that many types of wildflowers that used to grow over large areas are now gone, and since various bee species rely on different types of flowers, some bees are left stranded without their preferred source of food.

Cranberry Specialist beeUSGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab/CC BY 2.0

To figure this out, researchers in the Netherlands had to be clever:

Different species of bees rely on different plants—the bee species that are disappearing have never been analyzed in terms of taste for the plants that are disappearing to see if they match up. And, once the bees or plants are gone, it's hard to figure out what relationship (if any) they might have had. Pesky details.

Researchers in the Netherlands have gotten around this problem by examining museum specimens of bees to figure out which bees like which flowers. They've demonstrated that the bee species that have declined are in fact those that like the pollen from flower species that have also declined. (source)

The scientists concluded that loss of preferred wildflowers is one of the primary factors responsible for the decline of wild bees, and of their declining body size (the bigger the bee, the more pollen is needed).

Been in a flowerWikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Via Ars Technica

Tags: Bees


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