Bees 'betray' their flowers when pollinator species decline

July 23, 2013

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About 90 percent of plants need animals, mostly insects, to transfer pollen between them so that they can fertilize and reproduce. Bees are by far the most important pollinators worldwide

Remove even one bumblebee species from an ecosystem and the impact is swift and clear: Their floral “sweethearts” produce significantly fewer seeds, a new study finds.

The study, to be published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on the interactions between bumblebees and larkspur wildflowers in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The results show how reduced competition among pollinators disrupts floral fidelity, or specialization, among the remaining bees in the system, leading to less successful plant reproduction.

“We found that these wildflowers produce one-third fewer seeds in the absence of just one bumblebee species,” says Emory University ecologist Berry Brosi, who led the study. “That’s alarming, and suggests that global declines in pollinators could have a bigger impact on flowering plants and food crops than was previously realized.”

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