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'Promiscuous' Bees and Vanishing Insects Mean Less Food for Us


Science & Tech  (tags: GeneticEngineering, environment, discovery, research, science, scientists, society, study, world, health )

JL
- 533 days ago - motherjones.com
three-quarters of global food crops rely at least partly on pollination by animals. But two reports published in Science last week show how wild pollinating insects such as bumblebees, butterflies, and beetles are disappearing, putting these foods at risk



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JL A. (275)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 9:15 am


Mother Jones
"Promiscuous" Bees and Vanishing Insects Mean Less Food for Us
Two studies reveal how insects are having a harder time pollinating essential food crops.

By Maddie Oatman | Tue Mar. 5, 2013 3:01 AM PST

The foods that make our meals more colorful and deliciousócoffee, watermelon, almonds, to name a fewódepend on pollinators like bees. In fact, three-quarters of global food crops [1] rely at least partly on pollination by animals. But two reports published in Science last week show how wild pollinating insects such as bumblebees, butterflies, and beetles are disappearing, putting these foods at risk. Plus, one of the reports reveals, substituting hives of honeybees isn't going to cut itóaccording to research collected across 20 countries, managed honeybees don't do nearly as good of a job at pollinating as their wild counterparts.

For one of the studies [2], Laura Burkle, an assistant ecology professor at Montana State University, wanted to see how climate change was affecting bee and plant interactions. When she and her fellow researchers stumbled across data collected in the late 1800s by naturalist Charles Robertson and in the 1970s by another researcher in the same location, they realized they had an opening. Burkle's team returned to Carlinville, Illinois, the site of Robertson's research (now fragmented forest surrounded by corn fields), discovering that where 109 species of wild bees once pollinated plants in the area, only 54 buzzed around today.

The location of the plant species and bees seemed to have shifted, too, meaning that the bees interacted with certain plants way lessóthe plant Claytonia virginica, or spring beauty, received only a quarter of the pollinator visits it did in the 1970s. Overall, 46 percent of interactions were lost, potentially because of the decline in species and the restructuring of the landscape, which has made it harder for bees to find the flowers they're used to. And unfortunately, as Burkle notes, while climate change is affecting both bees and plants by speeding up their flight and flowering times, they are responding differently to the changes: "they are not syncing up."
Where 109 species of wild bees once pollinated plants in the area, only 54 buzzed around today.
Naturalist Charles Robertson History of Macoupin County Illinois

The researchers also noticed that individual insects had pollen from a more diverse range of plants. On the surface this might sound promising, but as Burkle puts it, if a bee "has lots of different kinds of pollen, it's visiting a bunch of plant species, which isn't good for pollination." If a bee were being a "good pollinator," it would have a high proportion of pollen from one plant. Now, adds Burkle, the bees "are being more promiscuous."

This flexibility is promising for the health of the beesó"they are able to make the best of a not-so-awesome situation," says Burkle. But bee conservation aside, we care about pollination in terms of how it relates to our agricultural production, and promiscuous bees might have negative implications for the crops we eat that depend on wild insect pollination. If bees can't be as good at pollination, says Burkle, that's "likely to have negative effects on pollination in general."

To make matters worse, not only are wild pollinators on the decline, the service they provide can't be substituted by the work of managed honeybees. So says another study [3] by 50 researchers from around the world who looked at fields in 20 countries. Argentine researcher Lucas Garibaldi explains that wild pollinating insectsócertain bees, flies, butterflies, and beetlesóthat traditionally pollinate an area are disappearing, often because of changes in how land is used (read: monocultures), chemicals, and deforestation. Even when the researchers did come across a lot of honeybees instead, the honeybees couldn't replace the amount of pollen and the quality of pollen wild insects deposit.
The bees "are being more promiscuous."

"In landscapes with lower diversity and lower abundance of wild insects," says Garibaldi, "the crops had less fruits." Wild insects pollinated way more efficiently: Flowers produced twice as many fruits after being visited by wild insects and were more consistent in their production than when visited by honeybees.

Both studies suggest that biodiversity is essential to food production. But this is often at odds with agricultural practices: Usually, farmers want to plant as much of the land as they can, and pesticides make crops easier to control. Maintaining some natural land near crops, keeping trees and flowers for nesting, and taking pollinator safety into consideration, write the researchers, are options to take seriously if we care about food security. And given my current coffee addiction, I'd say those bumblebees and beetles are quickly climbing up to the top of my "species essential for human survival" list.
Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/03/promiscuous-bees-mean-less-food-security-humans

Links:
[1] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/02/27/science.1235464.full
[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/02/27/science.1232728.abstract?sid=b857d7f4-7c07-4fa2-b0ae-a00b0058f9e9
[3] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/02/27/science.1230200.abstract?sid=3def6662-72fd-4361-9a56-7460cf3cc05a
 

Suheyla C. (229)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 10:38 am
Thank you J.L.
noted
 

JL A. (275)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 10:48 am
You are welcome Suheyla.
 

Kit B. (277)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 3:51 pm

Since this take over of farming by big business, we seem to have forgotten that farming is not just pouring dirty, toxic chemicals to grow food. Food growth is dependent, as is so much of our world, on a natural cycle, bees are a critical part of that cycle. I wonder if or how we go back to real and natural food. Very important article, thank you, J L.
 

JL A. (275)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 3:53 pm
Excellent observations Kit! You are welcome. You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last day
 

Wild Thang (9)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 4:02 pm
Humans using wars for cross pollination is putting our entire planet at risk in addition to the human race.
 

. (0)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 4:16 pm
very interesting, thanks
 

Natalie V. (27)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 4:20 pm
noted
 

Theodore Shayne (56)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 5:05 pm
No insects = no us.
 

JL A. (275)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 6:42 pm
You are welcome Paula. You cannot currently send a star to Theodore because you have done so within the last day.
 

Tamara Noforwardsplz (185)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 6:59 pm
It still amazes me that the so called experts have not yet figured out that having more crops does not =more food. If those crops are not pollinated by wild insects, they become useless in the long run. So instead clearing yet more land for more crops, start planting natural flowers, trees, and other plants that will attract more of the wild insects. By dissecting the land, they are only causing the downfall of so many vital species of pollinators. And until they stop the use of so many toxic chemicals, we will not see a rise in populations of those pollinators. Thanks J.L.
 

JL A. (275)
Wednesday March 6, 2013, 7:09 pm
It is mind boggling for sure Tamara. You are welcome. You cannot currently send a star to Tamara because you have done so within the last day.
 

Jaime A. (32)
Thursday March 7, 2013, 1:24 pm
Noted, thanks.
 

JL A. (275)
Thursday March 7, 2013, 1:39 pm
You are welcome Jaime.
 
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