Jul 5

Most pollinator-plant relationships follow the same trend – animal lands on plant, gets covered in pollen which it then transfers onto another plant of the same species – but there are many plants that go against the norm, and have a weird and wonderful method of ensuring that their pollen gets to where it needs to be.

A honey bee may be the first thing that springs to your mind when you think of pollination – be prepared for this to change!

Aroids

Plants in the Araceae family, also known as ‘aroids’, act as a kind-of bed and breakfast for insects. These plants attract a wide range of insect pollinators by producing scents which vary between rotting flesh and sweet fruit, and many produce heat to help with the dispersal of their aroma. Most aroid species will trap any insect that comes into contact with its leaves inside a dungeon-like structure which it is unable to escape from. While the insect is trapped, the plant produces nectar to feed it and keep it alive and after 24 hours the male flowers mature and cover the insect with pollen. The dungeon then collapses and allows the pollen-covered insect to escape and find another aroid to pollinate, starting the process again!

The flower of titan arum, the plant that produces the world’s largest inflorescence

Orchids

Orchids are an extremely diverse plant group and their methods of attracting pollinators are variable between species. Most orchids just have one or two dedicated pollinators which can be bees, wasps, flies, ants or butterflies, and this means that if becomes extinct, the other will likely share the same fate.

Ophrys species have a very sneaky way of attracting male bees to their flowers. They have evolved their scent over time to mimic the pheromones released by a female bee and even have a similar appearance, which led to the designation of their common name – ‘bee orchids’. When a male picks up the scent, it lands on the flower of the bee orchid and repeatedly attempts copulation, all the while being covered in the plant’s pollen. Another type of orchid that encourages bee romance are bucket orchids, which produce a cologne for male bees that is irresistible to females.

Another orchid, Oncidium planilabre, has a less romantic approach to attracting male bees, and mimics a male rather than a female, which encourages attacks from male bees. When the male bee attacks the orchid, it is covered in pollen which is then transferred to the next bee-like flower that it takes a dislike to.

The bumble bee orchid, an Ophrys species

Another orchid with a strange pollination method is Holcoglossum amesianum. This amazing plant has the capacity to move its flowers 360 degrees to transfer pollen onto its stigma and does not rely on any external forces whatsoever.

Fig wasps and figs

Fig wasps and figs have a completely dependent symbiotic relationship. The fascinating pollination cycle of the fig tree begins when a female wasp enters one of the fruits through an extremely small opening, often losing its wings and antennae on its way in. Once inside, the female lays her eggs and dies shortly after. When the eggs have hatched, the male and female offspring have very different functions. The wingless males explore the inside of the fig, trying to find a female to mate with and once they have mated, they bore exit pathways to the outside of the fig then also die. The female offspring, once they have mated, collect pollen from the male flowers inside the fig and then use the pathways created by the males to escape. The females then search for a new fig fruit to pollinate and the whole cycle begins again.

The fruit of Ficus carica, a species of fig

Axinaea species

Plants in the Axinaea genus have large, bulb-like structures on their stamens which entice passing birds. As the bird touches the structure with its bill, it explodes and covers the bird’s face with pollen. As the bird continues to forage, the pollen is transferred onto other plants.

Axinaea sessilifolia

Giant Amazon water lily

At the beginning of its pollination cycle, the giant Amazon water lily produces female flowers which have white petals and emit a strong fruity scent that attracts beetles. The flower itself is around 10 degrees Celsius warmer than the ambient temperature – another factor that makes it irresistible to beetles. When the beetles arrive and begin to feed on the nectar, the flower slowly closes and traps the beetles inside. Throughout the day the petals of the flower turn pink and it undergoes a sex change, turning into a male and covering the beetles in pollen. When the flower eventually reopens, it releases the pollen-covered beetles who are then free to continue their search for nectar.

 

Find out more about pollination and the slightly more ‘normal’ approach that most plants have on our new topic page.

Feb 1

We’ve asked conservation organisations around the world to nominate a species that they believe to be overlooked, underappreciated and unloved, and tell us why they think that they deserve a fair share of the limelight, this Valentine’s Day.

Each nominee’s story is featured on the Arkive blog with information on the species, what makes them so special, the conservation organisation that nominated them and how they are working to save them from extinction.

Click the ‘unloved species’ tag above to see all of the nominations and their blogs.

Once you have perused the blogs you can vote for your favourite to help get them into the top ten unloved species and get them the recognition that they truly deserve! Share your favourite with others using the #LoveSpecies hashtag on Twitter and Facebook and tell them why they should vote for them too. Voting closes on February 14th at 23:59 PST (07:59 GMT).

Join us and our conservation partners in celebrating and raising awareness for some of the world’s most unloved species this Valentine’s Day!

Species: European honey bee

Nominated by: BeeBristol

Conservation status: widespread and common species

Why do you love it? The honey bee is one of nature’s hardest workers, it takes around one million trips to make one tea spoon of honey, all the while pollinating each plant they visit. The level of organisation, team work and sacrifice it takes to keep a healthy productive hive against all odds is breath-taking. Honey bees across the world have been telling us, like the canary in the coal mine, that we are not in sync with nature and instead valuing profit over the environment. With increasing numbers of honey bees and all other pollinating insects struggling worldwide we are experiencing a desperate and critical fork in the road which has been mentioned in parliament here in the UK and governments on an international scale over the past ten years.

The honey bee has become is the figure head for all pollinators worldwide, at the forefront of a fight that must maintain momentum. The battle for our environment through the way we manage land, use chemicals, expand our urban areas and overall, interact with nature must be won. It’s imperative we continue to promote and use the image of the honey bee to rally the general public and industry behind its important cause, for the sake of all insects, plants and even the human race. So we love the honey bee not just for its brilliance, beauty and role in pollination; but for the proven influence and power it’s shown in the media to enable positive environmental change at a government level in so many countries across the world.

What are the threats to the European honey bee? Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, non-native species and diseases, pollution, pesticides including neonicotionoids and climate change.

What are you doing to save it? BeeBristol’s main focuses include awareness raising through street art, instillations and engagement events. We focus our conservation work on creating new wildflower meadows, habitat and foraging opportunities for all pollinators including honey bees. With all our work we like to include local people and inspire actions on a personal level to be made at home or in the workplace to benefit pollinators. We also manage a number of beehives, never using chemicals or adopting harsh beekeeping techniques, we always lean to a more holistic natural beekeeping approach. Our work with schools and community groups has a positive impact on our local area and we’ve formed a partnership with River of Flowers to distribute forage on a national and international level.

Find out more about BeeBristol’s work

Discover more bee species on Arkive

 

VOTE NOW!

 

Jul 19

Bumblebees imported from Europe infected with parasites pose a serious threat to the UK’s wild and honey bee populations, according to a new study.

Honey bee image

Honey bees are vital pollinators

Deadly imports

Each year, more than a million bumblebee colonies are imported by countries across the globe to pollinate a variety of crops, with the UK alone importing between 40,000 and 50,000. Although the colonies are said by the global suppliers to be disease free, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Ecology has found that more than three-quarters of those imported into the UK each year are riddled with parasites.

Bees and disease

Scientists purchased 48 commercially produced bumblebee colonies, each containing up to 100 bees, from three different European suppliers during 2011 and 2012, and screened each one for parasite DNA. The results showed that an alarming 77% of the colonies were infected with parasites, a situation which has serious implications for the health of the UK’s native wild bees and honey bees, many of which are already suffering severe declines.

These parasites will undoubtedly be spilling over into wild and honey bees and very probably having negative effects on them,” said lead researcher Professor William Hughes, from the University of Sussex. “It is no great leap to think that damage is already being done.”

Honey bee worker image

Parasites carried by imported bumblebee colonies may pose a serious risk to the UK’s native bee populations

Parasites

The results of the study revealed that the imported bumblebee colonies carried several different parasites, five of which were found in the bees themselves and three in the pollen provided by the suppliers as food. These parasites included three main bumblebee parasites (Crithidia bombi, Nosema bombi and Apicystis bombi), three honey bee parasites (Nosema apis, Ascosphaera apis and Paenibacillus larvae), and two which infect both bumblebees and honey bees (Nosema ceranae and deformed wing virus).

With the decline of pollinating insects in the UK in recent years, food producers are becoming increasingly reliant upon imported bees.

Over a million colonies are imported globally – it’s a huge trade,” said Professor Hughes. “A surprisingly large number of these are produced in factories, mainly in Eastern Europe. We couldn’t grow tomatoes in this country without these bumblebees. We sought to answer the big question of whether colonies that are being produced now have parasites and, if so, whether those parasites are actually infectious or harmful.”

Buff-tailed bumblebee image

Scientists are calling for stricter regulations regarding the import of bumblebees

Severe consequences

The potential impacts on native wild bee and honey bee species could be extremely severe, from harming the bees’ ability to learn, which is vital for finding food, to killing them outright. In Argentina, native bee species are already being driven to extinction as a result of imported parasites, and the authors of the recent study are recommending that urgent action is required in the UK to improve the effectiveness of disease screening and to close damaging loopholes.

Call for action

Scientists are calling for authorities to strengthen measures to prevent the importation of parasite-infected bumblebee colonies, by introducing proper colony checks upon arrival in the UK. While there are strict regulations in the UK regarding the import of non-native bumblebees, including ensuring that the colonies are disease free and are only kept in hives from which the queens cannot escape, no such regulations apply to imported colonies of native bee subspecies.

Bees and other pollinators are responsible for the production of three-quarters of the world’s food crops, but heavy pesticide use, rising disease, and starvation due to habitat destruction are all contributing to worrying declines in many species.

The introduction of more or new parasite infections will, at a minimum, exacerbate this, and could quite possibly directly drive declines,” said Professor Hughes.

Honey bee image

Honey bee in flight, laden with pollen

Pesticide ban

Earlier this week, the EU voted to successfully suspend the use of fipronil, a common pesticide, due to the serious risk it poses to bees. Currently used in more than 70 countries, this insect nerve agent will be banned from use on corn and sunflowers in Europe from the end of 2013.

Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health, said, “In the aftermath of the restriction on use of neonicotinoids, I pledged to do my utmost to protect Europe’s honey bee population, and today’s agreement with member states not only delivers on that pledge but marks another significant step in realising the commission’s overall strategy to tackling Europe’s bee decline.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Imported Bumblebees pose ‘parasite threat’ to native bees and The Guardian – Imported bumblebees pose risk to UK’s wild and honeybee population – study.

Find out more about honey bees on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Apr 29

Neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for bee deaths are to be banned across Europe after an EU vote which took place today.

Photo of honey bee heavily laden with pollen

Honey bees are vital pollinators, but are in decline

Wild species such as honey bees are believed to be responsible for the pollination of around a third of the world’s crops, and contribute billions of dollars each year to the global economy. However, there has been widespread concern about their rapid decline, which has been blamed on a number of factors, including habitat loss, disease and the use of insecticides.

Neonicotinoids are nicotine-like chemicals which are toxic to insects and which have been widely used as pesticides for more than a decade. They are usually applied to seeds, and are taken up by all parts of the growing plant, including its pollen and nectar.

Although less harmful than some of the pesticides they replaced, neonicotinoids have been blamed for contributing to bee declines, with a number of studies showing harmful effects on bee behaviour and survival. The combined effects of more than one pesticide have also been shown to put bumblebee colonies at risk.

Photo of buff-tailed bumblebee

Pesticides have also been shown to have negative effects on bumblebees

However, many farmers and chemical companies argue that the science is inconclusive and the studies do not necessarily reflect field conditions, and that a ban on these pesticides would harm food production.

Intense lobbying

There has been intense lobbying by both sides in the run-up to today’s vote, with nearly 3 million signatures collected in support of a ban, and campaigners rallying in London last Friday to call for action.

Some countries, including Germany, Italy and France, have already put restrictions on neonicotinoids, while some UK retailers have taken action by removing them from their shelves and supply chains.

A previous vote by the EU on whether to ban the chemicals was inconclusive, so the European Commission went to an appeals committee. Fifteen countries have now voted in favour of a ban, while eight voted against, including the UK, and four abstained. Although not a large majority, this was enough for the Commission to put in place a two-year ban on neonicotinoids.

Photo of honey bee bees at entrance of hive

Other threats to bees include habitat loss and disease

After the vote, the EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said, “I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion Euros ($29 billion) annually to European agriculture, are protected.”

More to be done for bees

Speaking about the vote, Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth said, “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”

The new ban will prohibit the sale and use of seeds treated with neonicotinoids, and will also prohibit the sale of these chemicals to amateur growers. However, it will not apply to crops that are non-attractive to bees, or to crops that are grown over winter.

Some have warned that the ban could lead to the return of older, more harmful pesticides. However, supporters say that this has not happened in countries that have already banned the chemicals, and that the use of more natural methods of pest control can tackle any problems.

Photo of honey bee in flight carrying pollen

Bees are estimated to be worth billions of dollars to the global economy

Few people would disagree that we need to protect our food production, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of damaging the environment. Indeed, there are several alternatives to using neonicotinoids, and other pesticides, and this a great opportunity for farmers to adopt these practices to protect bees and other pollinators,” said Professor Simon Potts, a scientist at the University of Reading.

A short-term decision to keep using harmful products may be convenient, but will almost certainly have much greater long-term costs for food production and the environment,” he said.

Although the ban is good news for bees, these important pollinators still face a number of other threats, and more still needs to be done to protect them. A monitoring programme will also be needed to assess the effects of the two-year ban on bees and other pollinating insects.

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – Bee deaths: EU to ban neonicotinoid pesticides and The Guardian – Bee-harming pesticides banned in Europe.

View photos and videos of bees on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Oct 23

Pesticides used in farming are killing bumblebees and affecting their ability to forage, putting colonies at risk of failure, according to a new study.

Photo of a buff-tailed bumblebee

Buff-tailed bumblebee on flower

An estimated one-third of all plant-based foods eaten by humans rely on bees for pollination, and bees and other pollinators have been estimated to be worth around $200 billion a year to the global economy. However, bee numbers have been plummeting in recent years, particularly in North America and Europe.

As bees provide around 80% of pollination by insects, it is vital to understand and deal with the causes of these declines.

Colony effects

Recent studies have suggested that pesticides may play a role in bee declines, as pesticide exposure can cause changes in bee behaviour and reduce the production of queens in colonies. However, the overall effects at the colony level are less well understood. Bees are also exposed to a number of different pesticides while foraging, but their combined effects have rarely been investigated.

Photo of honey bee performing waggle dance

Honey bees

In the new study, published in Nature, scientists exposed colonies of bumblebees to the pesticides neonicotinoid and pyrethroid over four weeks, at levels similar to those found in the field.

Most previous studies have focused on honey bees, which are smaller than bumblebees but have much larger colonies, sometimes numbering tens of thousands of individuals. In contrast, bumblebees form colonies of just a few dozen individuals, potentially making them more vulnerable to impacts at the colony level.

Photo of a small garden bumblebee nest

Nest of the small garden bumblebee

The findings showed that long-term exposure to the two pesticides impaired the foraging behaviour of the bees and increased worker mortality, leading to significant reductions in colony success. The researchers also found that being exposed to a combination of more than one pesticide increased the likelihood of a colony failing.

Effects at the individual level can have a major knock-on effect at the colony level. That’s the novelty of the study,” said Richard Gill, the lead author of the study.

Important piece of the jigsaw

According to the researchers, the new findings emphasise the need for wider testing of pesticides. They endorsed the recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that pesticides should be tested over longer periods and that new protocols should be developed to detect the cumulative effects of multiple chemicals on bees. There should also be separate assessments for different bee species.

Photo of female common carder bumblebee feeding from flower

Common carder bumblebee foraging

Parasites and habitat destruction, leading to a reduction in food supplies, have also been blamed for the decline in bee populations. A number of different factors are likely to be involved, and more research is still needed.

My guess is that the decline of bees is like a jigsaw – there are probably a lot of pieces to put into place. This is probably a very important piece of that jigsaw,” said Gill.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Pesticides put bumblebee colonies at risk of failure, study finds.

View photos and videos of bees on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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