Illinois town provides a historical foundation for today's bee research

Mar 01, 2013
Illinois town provides a historical foundation for today's bee research
John Marlin, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, is a research affiliate with the Illinois Natural History Survey. He displays one of Charles Robertson's original accession books in which he recorded data about over 25,000 insects he collected in Carlinville, Illinois. Credit: Michael Knapp

A study published in the journal Science reveals a decline in bee species since the late 1800s in West Central Illinois. The study could not have been conducted without the work of a 19th-century naturalist, says a co-author of the new research.

Charles Robertson, a self-taught entomologist who studied zoology and botany at Harvard University and the University of Illinois, was one of the first scientists to make detailed records of the interactions of wild bees and the plants they pollinate, says John Marlin, a co-author of the new analysis in Science. In the 1970s, Marlin, a research affiliate with the Illinois Center and Illinois Natural History Survey at the U. of I., used Robertson's records as a basis for his own research on the wild bees around Carlinville, Ill., an area rich in woodlands and native prairie.

Marlin's research was documented in a 2001 Ecology and Society article ("The Native Bee Fauna of Carlinville, Illinois, Revisited After 75 Years: a Case for Persistence"). That study focused on the 24 plant species that Robertson had found harbored the most bee species. Seventy-five years after Robertson's research, Marlin found 82 percent of the species Robertson had collected in the original study.

The new article in Science, by Laura Burkle, of Montana State University, Marlin and Tiffany Knight, of Washington University, shows a considerable decline in the number of bee species in the Carlinville area since both the Robertson and Marlin studies. On spring woodland wildflowers they found only half of the bee species that Robertson originally documented.

"This is an indication that something dramatic has happened to the landscape," Marlin said.

"Carlinville is one of the most referenced communities in the world in the bee literature," Marlin said. "It is clear that Charles Robertson's foundation provides an invaluable resource for modern comparative studies on bee species and their interactions with the environment."

The center and survey are part of the Prairie Research Institute at Illinois.

Explore further: Hermit creepy crawlies: Two new taxa of wood-feeding cockroach from China

More information: The paper, "Plant-pollinator interactions over 120 years: loss of species, co-occurrence and function," is available online at www.sciencemag.org/content/ear… nce.1232728.full.pdf

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bee species outnumber mammals and birds combined

Jun 11, 2008

Scientists have discovered that there are more bee species than previously thought. In the first global accounting of bee species in over a hundred years, John S. Ascher, a research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate ...

The flight of the bumble bee: Why are they disappearing?

Aug 11, 2011

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist is trying to learn what is causing the decline in bumble bee populations and also is searching for a species that can serve as the next generation of greenhouse pollinators.

Recommended for you

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

11 hours ago

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.