Selenium in Pollen and Nectar Could Poison Californian Bees


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What's For Dinner, Honey?
California's San Joaquin Valley has some of the highest natural levels of selenium (a chemical element that is highly toxic in large doses) found anywhere. It's in the soil and the groundwater, and it ends up in plants. Some species have actually evolved to take advantage of this, building up selenium into their tissues to poison predators. But selenium also ends up in the pollen and nectar of the flowers. Is it poisoning California's bees?

Photo: Flickr, CC
Discovery News writes:

Kristen Hladun and John Trumble of the University of California, Riverside were surprised to find that nectar and pollen collected from plants grown in a laboratory contained between 108 and nearly 2,000 parts per million of selenium -- many times the lethal level for most insects. [...]

Very little research exists documenting how selenium affects bees. If bees mix only a fraction of high-selenium pollen and nectar into their diets, it may act like a medicine, protecting them against diseases. Some species could even have adapted a resistance to selenium.

Hladun and Trumble are planning to investigate the health of bee hives in the Central Valley region and test the insects' resilience to selenium.

Could it depend on whether the types of bees are native to the region or not? Bees that have been brought from somewhere else probably couldn't have evolved mechanisms to deal with the high levels of selenium, so maybe the solution (as is most often the case) is to stick with native species.

About 1/3 of the food that humans eat is dependent on bee pollination, so knowing more about bees and the threats they face is extremely important.

Via Discovery News
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