Flower-rich habitats ensure survival of bees
Insect pollinators like bees are on a decline globally. This is due to increase in urbanisation and loss of natural habitat from agricultural intensification. Other studies have shown how climate change puts the pressure on bee population.
There have been a range of global initiatives to restore pollinator habitats and population. However, the success of these initiatives depends on the understanding of how changes in the natural landscape affect survival of these pollinators.
In the case of bumble bees, this understanding is lacking due to the deficiency of systematic monitoring and discovery of wild colonies of bees.
A new research from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in UK conducted the largest ever study of its kind on wild bumblebee population by monitoring bumblebee colonies and has revealed that flower-rich habitats are key enhancers to the survival of bumblebee families.
The scientists matched daughter queens to their mothers and sisters using advanced molecular genetics and projected the locations of colonies in the landscape from the locations of their workers bees.
This study is important for farmers and policy makers to be able to manage the natural environment and provide for bees, as they are very important pollinators. It is said that one-third of the food we consume relies on pollination mainly by bees.
Researchers studied three species of bees: Bombus terrestris, the buff-tailed bumblebee; Bombus lapidarius, the red-tailed bumblebee and Bombus pascuorum, the common carder bee. They used remote sensing to track more than 1,600 families of bees across a farmed landscape. This included tracking mother, daughter and sister bees over a period of two years.
The scientists collected DNA samples using a well-established method that causes no harm to the bees. These samples were ‘genotyped’ in the laboratory to understand which bees originated from the same colony or family lineage.
The study revealed that access to pollen and nectar-rich flowers is vital to the survival of these pollinators.
By decoding the DNA of queen bees and worker bees and then combining this information with landscape surveys, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the survival of bumblebee population is dependent on the quality of the natural habitat.
The researchers learned that bee colonies produced more daughter queens in the following year of survival when these colonies were located within 250-1000 metres of nutritious food resources which include spring and summer flowering plants that provide pollen and nectar throughout the bee’s lifecycle.
This study demonstrates the need for high quality food resources to improve the survival of bumble bees by providing more flowers in hedgerows, meadows and along the edges of farms. It supports environmentally friendly management of farmland and can help farmers and land managers decide where to plant flowers in the landscape which is best for the bees.
These tiny creatures are extremely important to us and their decline should alarm us. But we can help them survive by growing flowers in our gardens and letting them get on with being busy bees.
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