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Born to bee wild: How feral pollinators may help prevent colony collapse disorder
By Enrique Gili

According to the Department of Agriculture, CCD has accounted, at least in part, ?for 30 percent of bee losses annually, since 2007. It’s also jeopardizing beekeepers, rural economies, and the farm communities that depend on those bees. Worldwide honeybees pollinate 400 crops, while adding an estimated $15 billion in revenues per year to the U.S. farm economy.

Despite their pastoral image, the burden placed on the domesticated honeybees is a weighty one. Bred for their non-aggressive demeanor and ample honey production, they’re also expected to help propagate tens upon of thousands of acres of flower-pollinated crops on farms throughout the U.S. and Europe.

As scientists and beekeepers have been literally and figuratively? beating the bushes to understand CCD, they’ve often turned to the? role genetic diversity plays in the overall health of bee colonies. And recent research published in the peer-reviewed science journal PLoS ONE suggests honeybees are as adverse to monogamy as they are to monocrops.? In fact, mixing it up, so to speak, can yield unexpected and surprising benefits for honeybee populations. Honeybees — whether feral or domesticated — need variety. Not only do worker bees spend their waking hours hopping from plant to plant, but some queen bees are also promiscuous, mating with multiple males in a brief period of time. And, as it turns out, there’s a biological rationale for this promiscuity; the overall fitness of the hive depends upon these multiple partners.

“Most bees, ants, and wasps mate singly. Honeybee queens are different ?in that regard — producing highly productive hives that dominate their landscape,” says Heather Mattila, a researcher at Wellesley College.

In the study published in PLoS ONE, Mattila and her co-author Irene Newton found that bees — like humans and other species — depend on helpful bacteria to aid in digestion. And the genetically diverse bee colonies they studied had a significantly greater number of probiotic species living in their guts than the more uniform hives. Moreover, the uniform beehives were 127 percent more likely to contain harmful pathogens than their more diverse counterparts.

“We’ve never known how genetic diversity leads to healthier bees, but this ?study provides strong clues,” says Matilla.
 

…not that there’s one simple fix for CCD. Diversity is just one part of the equation. “A lot has to do with pesticides and nutrition,” Cobey adds. “The amazing thing about bees is they bounce back [for a while]. But at some point they collapse.”

Scientists and beekeepers alike are working furiously to prevent that from happening. But in the meantime, it might be wise to ask: What if we turned back the clock on agricultural production and allowed honeybees to forage and frolic more freely?

[click here to read the full article on grist.org]

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‘Citizen Scientists’ To Help Gauge Wild Bee Population

Scientist Gretchen LeBuhn is trying to save the nation’s wild bee population. But to achieve her goal, she’s resorting to some unconventional means, namely the help of ordinary citizens from across the country.

On Saturday 100,000 ‘citizen scientist’ volunteers will spend about 15 minutes counting the number of bees that visit “lemon queen” sunflowers they’ve planted following instructions on LeBuhn’s website,www.greatsunflower.com. Participants will monitor the flowers for bees twice monthly through the end of the summer, uploading the information into a central database.

Studies have shown that pollinators affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, but climate change and a little-understood phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder” are threatening honey bees, a key pollinator. Though researchers have reported a drastic decline in the populations of domesticated honeybees since at least 2006, the statistics on wild bees have remained more elusive.

LeBuhn hopes the new data will help scientists identify where native bee populations are doing well and where they’re doing poorly. Hopefully, the hundreds of thousands of sunflowers planted by volunteers will have the added benefits of providing wild bees with an enriched and expanded habitat.

“We’re really leveraging science dollars to do a survey we could never do using traditional methods,” said LeBuhn, an associate professor at San Francisco State University. “It would just be incredibly cost prohibitive. I was thinking of sending my grad students up to Napa [County] and having them count bees,” she added. “But to do that at any bigger scale than one county would be impossible. So it’s amazing to get all these people participating.”

Participants don’t need to know whether the bee they’re watching is a bumblebee, a carpenter bee or a honeybee, LeBuhn said, though a guide available on her website can help with identification.

There are more than 4,000 different species of native bees in North America, according to Science Daily, but many of them have already disappeared. LeBuhn says that of the nine species of bumblebees known to live in the San Francisco area, researchers have only been able to find four of them in recent years.

Click here to read the full article by by Lucia Graves on huffingtonpost.com

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Dancing Honeybee Using Vector Calculus to Communicate

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