Saving our bees: Ecologists assess the impact of people on pollinators

Most of the world's plant species rely on animals to transfer their pollen to other plants. The undisputed queen of these animal pollinators is the bee, made up of about 30,000 species worldwide, whose daily flights aid in the reproduction of more than half of the world's flowering plants. In recent years, however, an unprecedented and unexplained decline in bee populations across the U.S. and Europe has placed the health of ecosystems and the sustainability of crops in peril.

In an oral session at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, an interdisciplinary group of scientists will explore the problem of bee habitat loss at a broad scale to determine what can be done to preserve bees in their native habitats. The session, titled "The Landscape-Scale Ecology of Pollinators and Pollination," will include scientists in the fields of computer science, mathematics and ecology from institutions in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

The most recent and headline-capturing phenomenon, known as colony collapse disorder, is characterized by the disappearance of adult honeybees from beekeeper hives, leaving behind bee larvae with no caretakers. The bee decline is particularly unnerving for farmers because an estimated 80 percent of all food crops are pollinated by honeybees and their wild cousins. Stymied scientists have proposed a host of reasons for managed honeybee declines, including climate change, parasites, diseases, overexposure to pesticides and loss of suitable habitat; most researchers believe that a combination of these factors is responsible. In this oral session, scientists turn their attention to native, wild bees to determine whether they are undergoing – or might undergo – the same decline.

One of the session's organizers, Neal Williams of Bryn Mawr College, hopes that the session will result in the synthesis of ideas from many disciplines. "We want to know: Can we look at landscape models in a predictive way and use those to inform us about natural populations and how they deliver pollinator services to crops?" he asks.

Rachael Winfree of Rutgers University is particularly interested in the health of native bees as "biological insurance" against the decline of honeybees. "Over half of the world's native plants require animal pollinators, and most of those are bees," she says. "Native pollinators are serving as a backup plan for the honeybee."

Winfree will present a study that combines data from over 50 published studies of bee population sizes and diversity. She found that in areas of extreme fragmentation due to human development, animal grazing, logging and crop fields, bee populations were smaller and the number of bee species was lower than in natural or minimally disturbed areas.

Scientists are also using technological methods to further understand bee communities. Daniel Chalk, a graduate student at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, used an artificial intelligence computer model to predict flight patterns of wild bumblebees. His model is useful because it can predict how bees would forage, or look for food resources, in different landscapes.

"Crucially, our model is able to predict the behavior of bees in larger-scale foraging environments, where the foraging patches can be thought of as large fields of crops," says Chalk. His model, he says, could help scientists understand how land disturbance caused by humans affects bee species richness and density.

Williams used an experimental approach to understand the landscape-scale ecology of native bumblebees. He and his colleagues established 38 bee colonies across central California, ranging from undisturbed chaparral to organic and conventional farms. During the course of the summer months, they found that the further a colony was from natural areas, the fewer worker bees it sustained. Williams' team also found that bees always collected pollen from both crops and native plants. Since crop fields aren't in bloom for the entire bee active season, Williams says, the bees need an adequate alternative source of nectar and pollen, and may travel several kilometers to find it. Therefore, a mosaic landscape that has natural areas mixed in with agriculture is important to keep bee colonies healthy.

"Today's landscape is both natural and managed," says Williams. "It's not just matrix of natural areas with agriculture mixed in, but a patchwork quilt with animals using all of the areas in the landscape."

Source: Ecological Society of America

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User comments

Aug 04, 2008
The article writer seems to have forgotten what I believe is the most likely cause: genetically modified organisms.

Since this site likes to publish articles that make unfounded, wild assertions, here's mine: GMO foods are the cause of CCD.

Aug 04, 2008
Myself being a non wild assertion aficionado of information have shared the problem as I have a certain clearence that gives me access to certain information .

I have previously stated and I stand by the facts on this forum the Bees are being sprayed from lifters. You folks are naive,as I have shared that they are "Tigers" and they were not so much reverse engineered as they were just engineered with simple anti-grav information.. You folks need to complain to your government,maybe even some of you have enough oomph to get attention. The bird species are dis-appearing also and there surely are less bugs.

All of the bird flu around the world and diffrent H viruses are also sprayed out of these lifters.

For the private lifters,including the ones spotted continuously in the Ohio/lake Erie area get their fuel from a private building at a cement plant in Ontario,Canada.

Lifters have been here virtually forever and go to great lengths to stay clandestine,except for little forays that people see regularly.

The bees are being killed deliberately,as are the flocks of fowl in other countries.

And of course ,you are just dismissing my task out,hissing just as they please.That is just the tip of the iceberg.

Aug 05, 2008
Sounds like that stupid movie... Next, the plants are going to start making us all commit suicide because they are socialist scum who hate capitalism too, right?

Aug 05, 2008
The EM connection to CCD is being neglected- when you haven't solved a problem you have to look at all possibilities. Here is a timeline I constructed dealing with this aspect of the problem:


Aug 07, 2008
EarthScientist: you may right, of course. Somewhere over the chem-bow there's an answer, and it may be spewed from the trails of lifters. But we can't talk about that here, in this public forum. Go to instead.

Aug 11, 2008
My, My ,My person X, I just love to beat these droids with process,and Rense folks also as papa here just laughs and laughs at the paradigm that has been placed into being.So , Rense,for me is out of fashion, as I have a certain compassion, and insist that HD, recomplete thee,and change his-toree.

As you see,Papa has a little piss in thee.

Helaughs and laughs at the process of these staffs,that actually get paid to run this garbage out ,and then shout and shout ,that they actually have the clout.

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