Pollinator News Roundup

So you haven’t been keeping up on the latest bee and pollinator research? Not to worry—that’s what we’re here for.

by Dani Yokhna

These news bites about bees might surprise you.

It’s time we have the talk. The one about the butterflies and the bees.

Seriously, though, there’s always so much news coming out about pollinators that it’s hard to keep up with it. There’s no way I can write about bees every time I see a new study regarding these friends, so here’s a round-up of pollinator news since the last time I did a round-up of pollinator news, which was actually six months ago—time flies when you’re writing about bees.

Managed Bees And Wild Bees Are Not Friends

Here’s a paradox: Wild-bee populations are declining, and farmers and orchardists are bringing in managed bee hives to make up the difference. We’re actually being encouraged to keep bees, but it turns out this is actually a terrible idea, according to researchers from the University of California, Riverside.

“The use of managed honey bees and bumblebees is linked with several cases of increased disease and population declines in wild bees,” says lead researcher Peter Graystock. His team found that sometimes managed bees spread disease to wild populations, but more often, the presence of managed bees—even healthy ones—stresses out the wild bees.

Graystock paints a sad picture:

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“Loss of wild pollinators will ultimately either reduce crop yields or increase the reliance on and cost of shipping in more managed bees. This increased cost will cascade down to consumers, raising the price of food we put on our tables.”

People are not going to give up their hives, obviously, so the research team came up with guidelines for keeping managed bees while reducing the impact on wild bees. These include:

  • Screening for disease in managed hives, particularly if the hive will be transported.
  • Minimizing the mingling of managed and wild bees—which is just about as difficult as that concept sounds.
  • Increasing conservation efforts to limit the effects of managed bee use in areas suffering wild-bee declines.

The “Do managed bees drive parasite spread and emergence in wild bees?” report was published in the International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife last month. 

Flowers Spread Bee Diseases

More work from Graystock’s team at the University of California, Riverside, yields more bad news if you know a bee that likes flowers, which unfortunately, is every bee. They’ve found flowers are acting as parasite hosts, allowing parasites to pass from bee to bee and between pollinator species. Heavily visited flowers become parasite transportation hubs, essentially.

Spreading the risk—that is, providing more flowers for bees to visit—is a way to curb this issue.

“Planting more flowers would provide bees with more options, and parasite spread may thus be reduced,” Graystock says.

The research team also supposes that the interstate and international flower trade is playing a role in moving pollinator parasites to new areas. Maybe think twice before ordering those Dutch tulips for your grandmother’s birthday.

The full study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Good News About Glyphosate?

You read that headline correctly. I’ve been looking for good news about the world’s most used herbicide, glyphosate, for some time now, as I wrote in a blog entry about this chemical last month. I actually found something! USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Mississippi State University are reporting that glyphosate does not harm pollinators. Researchers tested 42 commonly used pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in a cotton-field setting, mimicking a situation where an adult bee in a cotton field accidentally gets sprayed. According to the Entomological Society of America, “the researchers used pesticides that were in the actual commercial formulations that would be used by farmers in their fields. This is an important distinction because most previous research tested the active ingredients only, which did not include other chemicals that influence the distribution, absorption and overall exposure of the pesticides to plants and bees.”

Seven of the chemicals tested—including glyphosate and acetamiprid, a pesticide in the neonicotinoid family—killed almost no bees. The negative side of this study is that 26 chemicals, “including many (but not all) neonicotinoids, organophosphates and pyrethroids, killed nearly all of the bees that came into contact with the test pesticide sprays.”

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