Fears of a decline in bee pollination confirmed

Sep 06, 2010
A queen bumble bee (Bombus bifarius) collects nectar from a flower of the glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum) at a research site in Irwin, Colo. Credit: David Inouye

Widespread reports of a decline in the population of bees and other flower-visiting animals have aroused fear and speculation that pollination is also likely on the decline. A recent University of Toronto study provides the first long-term evidence of a downward trend in pollination, while also pointing to climate change as a possible contributor.

"Bee numbers may have declined at our research site, but we suspect that a climate-driven mismatch between the times when flowers open and when bees emerge from hibernation is a more important factor," says James Thomson, a scientist with U of T's Department of Ecology and .

Thomson's 17-year examination of the wild lily in the of Colorado is one of the longest-term studies of pollination ever done. It reveals a progressive decline in pollination over the years, with particularly noteworthy pollination deficits early in the season. The study will be published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences on September 6.

Three times each year, Thomson compared the fruiting rate of unmanipulated flowers to that of flowers that are supplementally pollinated by hand. "Early in the year, when queens are still hibernating, the fruiting rates are especially low," he says. "This is sobering because it suggests that is vulnerable even in a relatively pristine environment that is free of pesticides and human disturbance but still subject to ."

Thomson began his long-term studies in the late 1980s after purchasing a remote plot of land and building a log cabin in the middle of a meadow full of glacier lilies. His work has been supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Explore further: Research helps steer mites from bees

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bumble bee visits a fritillary

Jun 25, 2010

Bumble bees can see which fritillary has the most nectar. Pollination by the bees protects plants against moulds.

British bees tagged to assess pesticide brain damage

Jun 22, 2010

British bees will be fitted with radio tags to monitor their movements and see if they are damaged by pesticides, in one of several studies unveiled on Tuesday to probe a decline in pollinating insects.

Climate Change Threatens Pollination Timing

Aug 09, 2006

In addition to the more obvious effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and increasing storm activity, there is the potential to dramatically alter ecological communities. Dr. David Inouye, director ...

Bee research shows benefits of native plants, wild bees

Jan 14, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- As scientists struggle to come to grips with Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease threatening to wipe out domesticated honey bees in the United States, they have begun to cast a ...

Recommended for you

Research helps steer mites from bees

Sep 19, 2014

A Simon Fraser University chemistry professor has found a way to sway mites from their damaging effects on bees that care and feed the all-important queen bee.

Bird brains more precise than humans'

Sep 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —Birds have been found to display superior judgement of their body width compared to humans, in research to help design autonomous aircraft navigation systems.

User comments : 0