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Bee Diversity Higher in Urban Areas Compared to Farmland

Bee Diversity Higher in Urban Areas Compared to Farmland

23 February 2015

ANALYSIS - When you think 'bee' you often picture lush farmland and open fields. However new research suggests that bees and other pollinating bugs actually thrive as well in towns and cities as they do in farms and nature reserves.

The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B has for the first time compared the suitability of different landscapes for pollinating insects across the UK.

Bees, which play a vital role in pollinating some of the UK's most important crops, have been declining in recent years, but the effects of urbanisation on pollinating insects is poorly understood.

beeThis new research from the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading in collaboration with the University of Cardiff found that bee abundance did not differ between three studied landscapes (urban, farmland, nature reserves), but bee diversity was higher in urban areas than farmland.

They also found that while hoverfly abundance was higher in farmland and nature reserves than urban sites, overall pollinator diversity did not differ significantly.

Lead researcher Dr Katherine Baldock, University of Bristol, said: "Bees are driven by the availability of food and suitable nesting sites. We found that there were equivalent numbers of bees in the three landscapes studied.

"In urban areas pollinators foraged on a wide variety of plant species, including many non-native garden plants, but visited a smaller proportion of the available plant species than those in other landscapes. This could be explained by the high diversity of plant species in urban areas."

The team compared flower visiting pollinator communities in 36 sites in and around some of the UK's largest towns and cities, recording a total of 7,412 insects visiting flowers. In the study, 11 rare or scarce species were recorded, four of which were also found in urban habitats.

The findings have important implications for pollinator conservation as urban areas in the UK continue to increase in size. The study concluded that 'urban areas growing and improving their value for pollinators should be part of any national strategy to conserve and restore pollinators'.

What is the cause of colony collapse?

It has been a cause of urgent concern for scientists and farmers around the world for at least a decade but a specific cause for the phenomenon has yet to be conclusively identified.

Bees usually begin foraging when they are 2-3 weeks old but when bee colonies are stressed by disease, a lack of food, or other factors that kill off older bees, the younger bees start foraging at a younger age.

Researchers attached radio trackers to thousands of bees and tracked their movement throughout their lives.

They found that bees that started foraging younger completed less foraging flights than others and were more likely to die on their first flights.

The researchers, from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), Macquarie University in Sydney, Washington University in St Louis, and University of Sydney, used this information to model the impact on honey bee colonies.

They found that any stress leading to chronic forager death of the normally older bees led to an increasingly young foraging force.

This younger foraging population lead to poorer performance and quicker deaths of foragers and dramatically accelerated the decline of the colony much like observations of CCD seen around the world.

Gemma Hyland, Editor

Gemma Hyland, Editor



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