Honeybees Forage Less in Deforested Landscapes, Reducing Pollination

A team of researchers has found that when honeybees live in regions depleted of resources, their metabolism changes. When little food is available, bees spend more time conserving energy and relying on food in the hive. This reduces their effectiveness as pollinators. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) spread pollen between plants as they seek out sugary nectar. This is an incredibly important service since bees pollinate the majority of food crops. Without honeybees, this process would have to be done manually—potentially costing humans billions of dollars. Honeybee populations have been rapidly declining, partially due to the use of certain pesticides as well as other factors such as loss of habitat and climate change. This has led to more research on honeybee ecology since losing pollinators would have serious impacts on human food supplies.

Scientists from the University of Western Australia collaborated with CSIRO, Curtin University, and Kings Park in Western Australia to study honeybee metabolism. The research team studied how the bees’ metabolism varied in different environments. The team compared honeybees that were living in a resource-rich landscape to those living in a deforested area with few sources of nectar. The researchers expected that the bees with fewer resources would have increased metabolism since they’d need to travel farther to find food. Instead, the team found that the opposite was true; honeybees in degraded environments had slow metabolism and didn’t venture far from the hive. Honeybees that had trouble finding food chose to rely more on resources directly from the hive and focused more on conserving their energy.

The team’s results are concerning because as deforested landscapes become increasingly more common, honeybees may reduce their foraging to compensate. This means less pollination, an issue that’s already affecting human food crops. The authors of the study emphasize the need for ecological land restoration in areas where pollinators are present.

REFERENCE

Tomlinson et al. Landscape context alters cost of living in honeybee metabolism and feeding. Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2017).

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