“Clue to bees’ history, tucked away in drawers”

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

Scientists, beekeepers and farmers have been very worried recently about the sharp declines in bee populations. Native bees and bumblebees are being affected, and not just non-native honeybees.  Researchers recently examined pinned bees from insect collections in the Northeastern U.S.  Naturalists and entomologists have been collecting bees in the region (that are now kept in museums and collections) since the 1870s, so there were actually a lot of specimens to work with!  Researchers found that wild bumblebees have declined in the area by 30% since 1872. The problem was, they didn’t know exactly what was causing these declines.  In another study of bee collections from the Netherlands, researchers noted that pinned bees often still had pollen grains stuck to their legs.  They were able to identify which plants the pollen came from under a microscope, and found that bee species declined more over time when they preferred to collect pollen from plant species that became more rare.  It didn’t matter if some bee species visited many different types of plants. Large bees also became more rare than small ones, perhaps because they needed to collect more pollen to feed on.

Scientists say that this information can be important to guide bee conservation, because we may need to grow certain species of plants to support more bee species.


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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.