On a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney yesterday Karin and I came across an interesting colonial-era statue in which a colony of feral, non-native honey bees had taken up residence. These bees are yet another alien invasive species that can create conservation problems in parts of the world where they don’t belong naturally. But it was funny enough to inspire a bit of Ogden Nash-style poetry on Twitter; you need to watch the video to fully appreciate it:
Tag Archives: Bees
Last week the Israeli bee taxonomist Achik Dorchin published a new paper entitled “Taxonomic revision of the aequata-group of the subgenus Eucera s. str (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Eucerini)” . The paper focuses on a little-known group of “longhorn” bees from the Eastern Mediterranean region, a part of the world with an extraordinarily high bee diversity. In this taxonomic account, Achik has named two bees new to science in honour of two pollination biologists:
Eucera dafnii is named by Achik for Prof. Amots Dafni, whom he describes as his “teacher and friend…a pioneer pollination ecologist of the Mediterranean region, who has led the research project during which much of the type series was discovered”. Amots is almost legendary in the field, he’s been conducting research on the flora, fauna, and pollination ecology of the region since the late 1960s, and remains a productive and influential scientist.
Eucera wattsi is named in honour of Dr Stella Watts, “a talented pollination ecologist, who collected much of the type series and contributed important floral observation and palynological data for this study”. Stella completed her PhD at the University of Northampton in 2008, with a thesis on “Plant-flower visitor interactions in the Sacred Valley of Peru”, and then went on to do a post doc with Amots in Israel.
It’s fitting that these bees are named in their honour: congratulations Amots and Stella!
In the post today I was pleased to find a copy of Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s first book Dancing With Bees that she had kindly signed and sent after I reviewed some of the text. It was great timing – I’ve just finished Mark Cocker’s Our Place, a really important historical and future road map of how Britain got to its present position of denuded and declining biodiversity, and what we can do to halt and reverse it. Highly recommended for anyone interested in environmental politics and action. So Brigit’s book will be added to the pile on my bedside table and may be next in line, though I still haven’t finished Dave Goulson’s The Garden Jungle – perhaps I will do that before I start Dancing With Bees?
And thereby lies a problem – there’s just too many interesting books to read at the moment if you are interested in the environment, or indeed even just in pollinators. Because a new genre of writing seems to be emerging that I call “auto-bee-ography”. A number of writers are using bees to frame their memoirs and anecdotes. Dave’s trilogy of Buzz in the Meadow, Sting in the Tale, and Bee Quest is probably the best known. Then there’s Buzz by Thor Hanson; Following the Wild Bees by Thomas Seeley; Bees-at-Law byNoël Sweeney; Keeping the Bees by Laurence Packer; Bee Time by Mark Winston; Bees Make the Best Pets by Jack Mingo; Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee
by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut; The Secrets of Bees by Michael Weiler; and The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury.
All of these books fall more-or-less into the category of auto-bee-ography, and I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed (feel free to add to the list in the comments below). They follow a strong tradition in natural history and environmental writing of using encounters with particular groups of organisms, for example birds and plants, as a way of exploring wider themes Which is great, the more high profile we can make all of these organisms, including pollinators, the better in my opinion*.
However there’s not enough written about the other pollinators, that does seem to be a gap in the literature. Mike Shanahan’s Ladders to Heaven has a lot about his encounters with figs and their pollinating wasps, but that’s about it, unless I’ve missed some? Perhaps in the future I’ll write something auto-fly-ographical called No Flies on Me. But before that, look out for Pollinators and Pollination: nature and society which I’m currently completing for Pelagic Publishing. It should be out in Spring 2020.
*Though not in everyone’s – I had a very interesting discussion on Twitter with some other ecologists recently about whether pollinators had too high a profile compared to organisms that perform other functional roles in ecosystems such as seed dispersers. You can follow the thread from here: https://twitter.com/JMBecologist/status/1165565465705496576
As it’s my birthday today, I thought I’d reward myself by completing a blog post that I started just after Christmas and never got round to finishing. Review articles that summarise recent developments in a field are an important contribution to the scientific literature that allow us to pause and reflect on where a topic has been and where it is headed. Having recently (co)authored a couple of reviews I can attest that they are useful in this respect for both the writers and for the readers.
In the past couple of years quite a number of critical and timely reviews have been published which are proving very useful to me: I’m currently writing a book and these reviews have been invaluable in summarising aspects of a field that is currently publishing in excess of 1000 research papers per year. So I thought I’d bring them together into a single listing with a short commentary on each. No doubt I have missed many other reviews so please feel free to point out any gaps and I will update the list as I go along.
Each review is hot linked to the source; a good proportion of the reviews are open access, notably those from the recent special issue of Annals of Botany devoted to the ecology and evolution of plant reproduction. Some reviews are very focused, but most are quite broad. Several of these complement one another. I hope you find them interesting and useful.
Mating systems, i.e. who breeds with whom, are just as complex in plants as they are in animals. However some features of seed plants, such as the fact that they don’t move, that most species have both male and female functions, and that their growth is modular and often indeterminate, represent significant challenges that have been overcome in a bewildering variety of ways.
Braun, J. & Lortie, C.J. (2018) Finding the bees knees: A conceptual framework and systematic review of the mechanisms of pollinator-mediated facilitation. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 36: 33-40
In a community, if one plant species positively affects another, we term this “facilitation”. It can occur at a variety of life stages, including reproduction whereby the presence of one species increase the likelihood of another species being pollinated. This review shows that it occurs fairly frequently at a variety of spatial scales, but there are still significant gaps in our understanding of the phenomenon.
When species provide benefits to one another in two different ways, for example an animal is both a pollinator and a seed disperser of a plant species, we refer to it as a “double mutualism”. As this fascinating review shows, double mutualisms are very uncommon, but they are widespread, and probably under-recorded.
The male aspect of plant reproduction, i.e. pollen donation, is often neglected when we consider how pollination systems evolve. This review provides as up to date account of where we are in understanding how paternity influences floral characters such as shape and colour.
A very broad over view of our current understanding of the biodiversity of pollinators, taking a deep time and a wide spatial perspective to put current concerns about loss of pollinators into a wider perspective.
We often take nectar for granted – it’s just sugar and water, isn’t it? As this review shows, nectar is dynamic and complex, and affects a range of ecological functions beyond just providing pollinators with a reward. However there’s still a huge amount we don’t understand about how nectar traits evolve.
Toledo-Hernández, M., Wangera, T.C. & Tscharntke, T. (2017) Neglected pollinators: Can enhanced pollination services improve cocoa yields? A review. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 247: 137-148
Chocolate is most people’s favourite confectionery and is famously pollinated only by small midges. Or is it? As this review shows, lots of other insects visit cocoa flowers, but their role as pollinators has not been well studied.
Vizentin-Bugoni J, PKM Maruyama, CS Souza, J Ollerton, AR Rech, M Sazima. (2018) Plant-pollinator networks in the tropics: a review. pp 73-91 In Dáttilo W & V. Rico-Gray. Ecological networks in the Tropics. Springer.
This book chapter that I co-authored with some very energetic and creative young Brazilian researchers summarises what’s currently known about plant-pollinator interaction networks in tropical communities. One of the conclusions is that they are really not so different to those in temperate and subtropical biomes.
A review of how bees use nectar and pollen at the level of both the individual and the colony, focused on the most widespread of pollinator species.
As expected, several people have told me about reviews I’d missed, and in some cases ones that I had read but forgotten about! I’ll list them below, though without annotations:
I had deliberately restricted the reviews to 2017 onwards, but via email David Inouye kindly sent a few older ones through which are equally useful:
A more recent addition to this set of reviews was sent to me by Anne-Laure Jacquemart. Although it’s focused just on one (rather variable) crop, I think it will be really useful for anyone interested in the pollination biology of crop plants:
It’s been a couple of years since I posted my previous “virtual conferences” on Pollinators, Pollination and Flowers and Ecology and Climate Change, a lapse that has largely been due to lack of time (my default excuse for most things these days….). However Judith Trunschke at Uppsala University in Sweden has risen to the challenge of guest-curating her own virtual conference*. The theme here is how pollinators impose (or sometimes don’t impose) natural selection on flowers that results in the formation of new plant species:
My grateful thanks to Judith for curating this great set of talks; if anyone else would like to do the same, please get in touch.
Feel free to discuss the talks in the comments section and to post links to other talks on the same topic.
*I’m assuming that, as all of these videos are in the public domain, none of the presenters or copyright owners objects to them being presented here. If you do, please get in touch and I’ll remove it.
In a new review paper that’s just been published in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics I have looked at the question of just how diverse the pollinators are, and why pollinator biodiversity is ecologically important and therefore worthy of conservation. I’ve taken a deep time and wide space approach to this, starting with what the fossil record tells us about when animal pollination evolved and the types of organisms that acted as pollinators in the past (the answer may surprise you if you’re unfamiliar with the recent paleontological literature on this topic). Some of the most prominent biogeographical patterns have been highlighted, and I have tried to estimate the global diversity of currently known pollinators. A conclusion is that as many as 1 in 10 described animal species may act as pollen vectors.
As well as this descriptive part of the review I’ve summarised some recent literature on why pollinator diversity matters, and how losing that diversity can affect fruit and seed set in natural and agricultural contexts. Extinction of pollinator species locally, regionally, and globally should concern us all.
Although I was initially a little worried that the review was too broad and unfocused, having re-read it I’m pleased that I decided to approach the topic in this way. The research literature, public policy, and conservation efforts are currently moving at such a fast pace that I think it’s a good time to pause and look at the bigger picture of what “Saving the Pollinators” actually means and why it’s so important. I hope you agree and I’d be happy to receive feedback.
You can download a PDF of the review entitled Pollinator Diversity: Distribution, Ecological Function, and Conservation by following that link.
Pollination ecologists should also note that in this same volume of Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics there’s a review by Spencer Barrett and Lawrence Harder called The Ecology of Mating and Its Evolutionary Consequences in Seed Plants. If you contact those authors I’m sure they’d let you have a copy.
This is a guest post by Charlie Dance who is Development Officer at The Buzz Club.
It’s hard to over-stress the importance of pollinators. Not only do they play an indispensable role in global food security, they’re also essential in maintaining the diversity of plant species in natural habitats, thus supporting nature as a whole. The UK is home to thousands of different pollinators including bees, wasps and hoverflies. However, while many of these species seem to be declining or disappearing, we know surprisingly little about the majority of them. Why are some disappearing, and how quickly is it happening? What can we do to help? How can we turn our gardens into pollinator havens? It was to help answer questions like these that the Buzz Club was founded in 2015.
Run by volunteers at the University of Sussex, The Buzz Club is a citizen-science charity using the power of the public to provide important data on pollinators. We run a variety of nationwide surveys and experiments suitable for all ages and ideal for wildlife and gardening enthusiasts. Furthermore, we provide information about how to make our urban landscapes more pollinator friendly.
For more information and for a list of current projects, please visit our website: http://thebuzzclub.uk/
As a membership-based organisation, we rely on the small donation of £2 per month from members, all of which goes directly towards running the charity. Not only do new members receive a complementary welcome pack containing a specially designed seed mix, bee identification chart, pollinator-friendly gardening guide, magnifying lens and stickers (see photo below), they also get to learn more about pollinators whilst helping to generate useful data that can be used in our projects.
We believe that with your help we can find out how best to conserve bees and other pollinators. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that we look after insects, giving them and us a future.
Join the Buzz Club here: https://alumni.sussex.ac.uk/buzzclub
From Jeff: if citizen science is your thing, don’t forget that the Ivy Pollinators project will run again this year: https://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/ivy-pollinators-citizen-science-project/
The 31st Annual Meeting of the Scandinavian Association for Pollination Ecology (SCAPE 2017) – registration closes 15th September
SCAPE is my favourite annual conference by a long margin: small, friendly, welcoming (especially for Master’s and PhD students, and postdocs), and packed full of great science. It’s the longest-running annual conference of its kind in the world and this year the 31st meeting takes place in Norway; registration closes on 15th September – here’s the link for more information.
So if you are a scientist with an interest in pollination ecology, in all of its varied expressions, consider coming along. I’ve written a short history of SCAPE here, and these are some links to previous meetings to give you a sense of what to expect:
Today I’ve been cracking on with the refurbishment of the old summer house at the back of the garden that previous owners have let fall into rotten disrepair, whilst Karin attends a conference in London. The renovation has been a slow job, due to lack of time, but a lot of fun, and a good excuse to play with power tools. In between sawing and drilling, however, I’ve been keeping an eye out for bees and other flower visitors and was delighted to spot a new species for the garden – the Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria). It’s a beautiful and distinctive insect that I know from other sites in Northampton, but had not recorded here previously. The record has been submitted to the BWARS recording scheme for this species.
Do look out for this bee, it’s difficult to confuse it with anything else (which is rare in Andrena….) Here’s a few photographs of a female collecting pollen from a cultivated rose, that I took with my phone:
There’s a long-standing idea in biology that ecological specialisation is an evolutionary “dead end” from which species can never emerge. In other words, if a species becomes so adapted to a particular ecological strategy (could be feeding or habitat requirements or how it interacts with other species ) then no amount of natural selection will result in its descendants evolving different strategies, thereby diversifying into new species. In particular it’s traditionally thought that evolving broader, “generalist” strategies from narrower, “specialised” ones is highly unlikely.
This has been much discussed in the literature on the ecology and evolution of pollination systems, where traditionally this “dead end” scenario has been accepted. However a small number of case studies have shown that generalised pollination systems can evolve within much more specialised clades, beginning with Scott Armbruster and Bruce Baldwin’s study of Madagascan Dalechampia (Euphorbiaceae), published in Nature in 1998.
To this limited body of examples we can now add another case study: in the genus Miconia (Melastomataceae), generalist nectar/pollen rewarding strategies can evolve within a clade of plants that predominantly uses a more specialised, buzz-pollinated strategy involving just bees.
The work is part of the PhD research of Vinicius de Brito who is one of the researchers I was privileged to do some field work with in Brazil when I was there in 2013 – see my post: “It’s called rainforest for a reason, right? Brazil Diary 6“. Vini is the guy on the left of the photo accompanying this post. Here’s the citation and a link:
de Brito, V.L.G., Rech, A.R., Ollerton, J., Sazima, M. (2017) Nectar production, reproductive success and the evolution of generalised pollination within a specialised pollen-rewarding plant family: a case study using Miconia theizans. Plant Systematics and Evolution doi:10.1007/s00606-017-1405-z
Here’s the abstract:
Generalist plant–pollinator interactions are prevalent in nature. Here, we untangle the role of nectar production in the visitation and pollen release/deposition in Miconia theizans, a nectar-rewarding plant within the specialised pollen-rewarding plant family Melastomataceae. We described the visitation rate, nectar dynamics and pollen release from the poricidal anthers and deposition onto stigmas during flower anthesis. Afterwards, we used a linear mixed model selection approach to understand the relationship between pollen and nectar availability and insect visitation rate and the relationship between visitation rate and reproductive success. Miconia theizans was visited by 86 insect species, including buzzing and non-buzzing bees, wasps, flies, hoverflies, ants, beetles, hemipterans, cockroaches and butterflies. The nectar produced explained the visitation rate, and the pollen release from the anthers was best explained by the visitation rate of pollinivorous species. However, the visitation rates could not predict pollen deposition onto stigmas. Nectar production may explain the high insect diversity and led to an increase in reproductive success, even with unpredictable pollen deposition, indicating the adaptive value of a generalised pollination system.
As always, I’m happy to send a PDF to anyone who wants a copy, just drop me an email.