Recent declines in honey bee populations and increasing demand for insect-pollinated crops raise concerns about pollinator shortages. Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies. Such findings are of great concern given the large numbers and high levels of pesticides found in honey bee colonies. Thus it is crucial to determine how field-relevant combinations and loads of pesticides affect bee health. We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees' susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae. Our samples represent pollen collected by foragers for use by the colony, and do not necessarily indicate foragers' roles as pollinators. In blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon bees collected pollen almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers during our sampling. Thus more attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load. Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.
Recent advances in molecular phylogenetics and a series of important palaeobotanical discoveries have revolutionized our understanding of angiosperm diversification. Yet, the origin and early evolution of their most characteristic feature, the flower, remains poorly understood. In particular, the structure of the ancestral flower of all living angiosperms is still uncertain. Here we report model-based reconstructions for ancestral flowers at the deepest nodes in the phylogeny of angiosperms, using the largest data set of floral traits ever assembled. We reconstruct the ancestral angiosperm flower as bisexual and radially symmetric, with more than two whorls of three separate perianth organs each (undifferentiated tepals), more than two whorls of three separate stamens each, and more than five spirally arranged separate carpels. Although uncertainty remains for some of the characters, our reconstruction allows us to propose a new plausible scenario for the early diversification of flowers, leading to new testable hypotheses for future research on angiosperms.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 4 years ago
Wild and managed bees are well documented as effective pollinators of global crops of economic importance. However, the contributions by pollinators other than bees have been little explored despite their potential to contribute to crop production and stability in the face of environmental change. Non-bee pollinators include flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, ants, birds, and bats, among others. Here we focus on non-bee insects and synthesize 39 field studies from five continents that directly measured the crop pollination services provided by non-bees, honey bees, and other bees to compare the relative contributions of these taxa. Non-bees performed 25-50% of the total number of flower visits. Although non-bees were less effective pollinators than bees per flower visit, they made more visits; thus these two factors compensated for each other, resulting in pollination services rendered by non-bees that were similar to those provided by bees. In the subset of studies that measured fruit set, fruit set increased with non-bee insect visits independently of bee visitation rates, indicating that non-bee insects provide a unique benefit that is not provided by bees. We also show that non-bee insects are not as reliant as bees on the presence of remnant natural or seminatural habitat in the surrounding landscape. These results strongly suggest that non-bee insect pollinators play a significant role in global crop production and respond differently than bees to landscape structure, probably making their crop pollination services more robust to changes in land use. Non-bee insects provide a valuable service and provide potential insurance against bee population declines.
Most commercially available therapeutic honey is derived from flowering Leptospermum scoparium (manuka) plants from New Zealand. Australia has more than 80 Leptospermum species, and limited research to date has found at least some produce honey with high non-peroxide antibacterial activity (NPA) similar to New Zealand manuka, suggesting Australia may have a ready supply of medical-grade honey. The activity of manuka honey is largely due to the presence of methylglyoxal (MGO), which is produced non-enzymatically from dihydroxyacetone (DHA) present in manuka nectar. The aims of the current study were to chemically quantify the compounds contributing to antibacterial activity in a collection of Australian Leptospermum honeys, to assess the relationship between MGO and NPA in these samples, and to determine whether NPA changes during honey storage. Eighty different Leptospermum honey samples were analysed, and therapeutically useful NPA was seen in samples derived from species including L. liversidgei and L. polygalifolium. Exceptionally high levels of up to 1100 mg/kg MGO were present in L. polygalifolium honey samples sourced from the Northern Rivers region in NSW and Byfield, QLD, with considerable diversity among samples. There was a strong positive relationship between NPA and MGO concentration, and DHA was present in all of the active honey samples, indicating a potential for ongoing conversion to MGO. NPA was stable, with most samples showing little change following seven years of storage in the dark at 4°C. This study demonstrates the potential for Australian Leptospermum honey as a wound care product, and argues for an extension of this analysis to other Leptospermum species.
Central place foragers, such as pollinating bees, typically develop circuits (traplines) to visit multiple foraging sites in a manner that minimizes overall travel distance. Despite being taxonomically widespread, these routing behaviours remain poorly understood due to the difficulty of tracking the foraging history of animals in the wild. Here we examine how bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) develop and optimise traplines over large spatial scales by setting up an array of five artificial flowers arranged in a regular pentagon (50 m side length) and fitted with motion-sensitive video cameras to determine the sequence of visitation. Stable traplines that linked together all the flowers in an optimal sequence were typically established after a bee made 26 foraging bouts, during which time only about 20 of the 120 possible routes were tried. Radar tracking of selected flights revealed a dramatic decrease by 80% (ca. 1500 m) of the total travel distance between the first and the last foraging bout. When a flower was removed and replaced by a more distant one, bees engaged in localised search flights, a strategy that can facilitate the discovery of a new flower and its integration into a novel optimal trapline. Based on these observations, we developed and tested an iterative improvement heuristic to capture how bees could learn and refine their routes each time a shorter route is found. Our findings suggest that complex dynamic routing problems can be solved by small-brained animals using simple learning heuristics, without the need for a cognitive map.
Expansion of mass-flowering crops leads to transient pollinator dilution and reduced wild plant pollination.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published over 9 years ago
Agricultural land use results in direct biodiversity decline through loss of natural habitat, but may also cause indirect cross-habitat effects on conservation areas. We conducted three landscape-scale field studies on 67 sites to test the hypothesis that mass flowering of oilseed rape (Brassica napus) results in a transient dilution of bees in crop fields, and in increased competition between crop plants and grassland plants for pollinators. Abundances of bumble-bees, which are the main pollinators of the grassland plant Primula veris, but also pollinate oilseed rape (OSR), decreased with increasing amount of OSR. This landscape-scale dilution affected bumble-bee abundances strongly in OSR fields and marginally in grasslands, where bumble-bee abundances were generally low at the time of Primula flowering. Seed set of Primula veris, which flowers during OSR bloom, was reduced by 20 per cent when the amount of OSR within 1 km radius increased from 0 to 15 per cent. Hence, the current expansion of bee-attractive biofuel crops results in transient dilution of crop pollinators, which means an increased competition for pollinators between crops and wild plants. In conclusion, mass-flowering crops potentially threaten fitness of concurrently flowering wild plants in conservation areas, despite the fact that, in the long run, mass-flowering crops can enhance abundances of generalist pollinators and their pollination service.
Pollination of several angiosperms is based on deceit. In such systems, the flowers advertise a reward that ultimately is not provided. We report on a previously unknown pollination/mimicry system discovered in deceptive Aristolochia rotunda (Aristolochiaceae). Pollinators were collected in the natural habitat and identified. Flower scent and the volatiles of insects (models) potentially mimicked were analyzed by chemical analytical techniques. Electrophysiological and behavioral tests on the pollinators identified the components that mediate the plant-pollinator interaction and revealed the model of the mimicry system. The main pollinators of A. rotunda were female Chloropidae. They are food thieves that feed on secretions of true bugs (Miridae) while these are eaten by arthropod predators. Freshly killed mirids and Aristolochia flowers released the same scent components that chloropids use to find their food sources. Aristolochia exploits these components to deceive their chloropid pollinators. Aristolochia and other trap flowers were believed to lure saprophilous flies and mimic brood sites of pollinators. We demonstrate for A. rotunda, and hypothesize for other deceptive angiosperms, the evolution of a different, kleptomyiophilous pollination strategy. It involves scent mimicry and the exploitation of kleptoparasitic flies as pollinators. Our findings suggest a reconsideration of plants assumed to show sapromyiophilous pollination.
There has been recent interest in the threat to bees posed by the use of systemic insecticides. One concern is that systemic insecticides may translocate from the soil into pollen and nectar of plants, where they would be ingested by pollinators. This paper reports on the movement of two such systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, into the pollen and nectar of flowers of squash (Cucurbita pepo cultivars “Multipik,” “Sunray” and “Bush Delicata”) when applied to soil by two methods: (1) sprayed into soil before seeding, or (2) applied through drip irrigation in a single treatment after transplant. All insecticide treatments were within labeled rates for these compounds. Pollen and nectar samples were analyzed using a standard extraction method widely used for pesticides (QuEChERS) and liquid chromatography mass spectrometric analysis. The concentrations found in nectar, 10 ± 3 ppb (mean ± s.d) for imidacloprid and 11 ± 6 ppb for thiamethoxam, are higher than concentrations of neonicotinoid insecticides in nectar of canola and sunflower grown from treated seed, and similar to those found in a recent study of neonicotinoids applied to pumpkins at transplant and through drip irrigation. The concentrations in pollen, 14 ± 8 ppb for imidacloprid and 12 ± 9 ppb for thiamethoxam, are higher than those found for seed treatments in most studies, but at the low end of the range found in the pumpkin study. Our concentrations fall into the range being investigated for sublethal effects on honey bees and bumble bees.
Planted meadows are increasingly used to improve the biodiversity and aesthetic amenity value of urban areas. Although many ‘pollinator-friendly’ seed mixes are available, the floral resources these provide to flower-visiting insects, and how these change through time, are largely unknown. Such data are necessary to compare the resources provided by alternative meadow seed mixes to each other and to other flowering habitats. We used quantitative surveys of over 2 million flowers to estimate the nectar and pollen resources offered by two exemplar commercial seed mixes (one annual, one perennial) and associated weeds grown as 300m2 meadows across four UK cities, sampled at six time points between May and September 2013. Nectar sugar and pollen rewards per flower varied widely across 65 species surveyed, with native British weed species (including dandelion, Taraxacum agg.) contributing the top five nectar producers and two of the top ten pollen producers. Seed mix species yielding the highest rewards per flower included Leontodon hispidus, Centaurea cyanus and C. nigra for nectar, and Papaver rhoeas, Eschscholzia californica and Malva moschata for pollen. Perennial meadows produced up to 20x more nectar and up to 6x more pollen than annual meadows, which in turn produced far more than amenity grassland controls. Perennial meadows produced resources earlier in the year than annual meadows, but both seed mixes delivered very low resource levels early in the year and these were provided almost entirely by native weeds. Pollen volume per flower is well predicted statistically by floral morphology, and nectar sugar mass and pollen volume per unit area are correlated with flower counts, raising the possibility that resource levels can be estimated for species or habitats where they cannot be measured directly. Our approach does not incorporate resource quality information (for example, pollen protein or essential amino acid content), but can easily do so when suitable data exist. Our approach should inform the design of new seed mixes to ensure continuity in floral resource availability throughout the year, and to identify suitable species to fill resource gaps in established mixes.
Miscanthus sacchariflorus is a fast-growing C(4) perennial grass that can naturally hybridize with M. sinensis to produce interspecific hybrids, such as the sterile triploid M.× giganteus. The creation of such hybrids is essential for the rapid domestication of this novel bioenergy crop. However, progress has been hindered by poor understanding of the environmental cues promoting floral transition in M. sacchariflorus, which flowers less readily than M. sinensis. The purpose of this work was to identify the flowering requirements of M. sacchariflorus genotypes in order to expedite the introduction of new germplasm optimized to different environments. Six M. sacchariflorus accessions collected from a range of latitudes were grown under controlled photoperiod and temperature conditions, and flowering, biomass, and morphological phenotypic data were captured. Results indicated that M. sacchariflorus, irrespective of origin, is a quantitative short-day plant. Flowering under static long days (15.3h daylength), compared with shorter photoperiods, was delayed by an average 61 d, with an average associated increase of 52% of above-ground biomass (DM plant(-1)). Timing of floral initiation occurred between photoperiods of 14.2h and 12.1h, and accumulated temperatures of 553-1157 °C above a base temperature of 10 °C. Miscanthus sacchariflorus flowering phenology closely resembles that of Sorghum and Saccharum, indicating potentially similar floral pathways and suggesting that determination of the underlying genetic mechanisms will be facilitated by the syntenic relationships existing between these important C(4) grasses.