Bees: the triple threat of the insect world

Have you ever felt underappreciated? As if people assume you can only contribute one skill to the world, and not much else…?

Imagine how bees feel. Not only do 99.9% of bee species live in the shadow of the European honey bee, most of the time they only get credit for pollinating flowers. And a few make honey. That’s all they do, right?

Actually, no. Bees do a lot of other things in their ecosystems. They have a very active life outside their relationship with flowers.

The stingless bees (Tribe: Meliponini) are some of the most intriguing. There are about 500 species of stingless bee around the world, mostly in tropical and subtropical regions. Like honey bees, they also make honey; albeit in gourmet, rather than commercial, quantities. (Their honey also has a very different flavour to the honey you buy in the supermarket.)

Stingless bee honey pots. (Photo: Tobias Smith)
Stingless bee honey pots. (Photo: Tobias Smith)

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Pollinators and Agroecology: new research directions for 2014

A lot of great research on wild pollinators and agroecosystems has been published this year. In particular, the pollinator conservation literature seems to be moving on from simple abundance/richness comparisons to other ecological contexts that are potentially more relevant to policy and management decisions, such as nutritional and commercial qualities of insect-pollinated fruits.

Below is nice round list of four articles published this year that got me excited. All four are ‘firsts’ for their particular topics and use great study design and insight to lead current knowledge on the subject matter gently in a new direction. They are also pertinent reading as we balance on the cusp of the UN’s international years of Family Farming and Soils.

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Foundation stones: connecting cultural heritage and wildlife conservation

Stone walls are central to the rich cultural heritage of human history. Some of the oldest stone walls in the world still stand in ancient Mediterranean lands, and also provide the foundations for Incan architecture (think Macchu Picchu) and the castles and ramparts of feudal Japan. In the UK, Ireland and Europe, stone walls are key elements of pastoral landscapes from a thousand postcards, and numerous regional specialities maintain their own unique cultural and ecological foundations. This colonial heritage is also preserved in the new world, particularly North America’s New England region and Australia’s southern states.

Stone walling is more than simply stacking rocks. A harmonious balance of art and science are needed to keep the wall standing. Each stone is fitted into the negative space around its neighbouring stones, like a jigsaw, so that the final wall holds itself against the pull of gravity. Continue reading

Plastic Bees

There has been a flurry of excitement in the media over a recently-published observational study describing the “behavioural flexibility and adaptation” of solitary bees to our “plastic-rich environments”. In a nutshell, during the course of a larger field study looking at wild bees in urban landscapes, researchers in Toronto discovered that some urban Megachile bee species in the city had lined their nest cells with plastic materials. Continue reading

Ecological Influence

A few weeks ago, my postgrad colleagues and I started a student research blog called Sturt’s Notebook, which will be managed and written by research students in our department. Here’s a guest post I wrote about the British Ecological Society’s collection of “100 of the most influential papers in ecology”. Even if you’re not an ecologist, it’s an interesting collection that provides much food for thought…including how omnipresent Ecology truly is, which I have written about here before.

So have a look at the “influential papers” and keep an eye on Sturt’s Notebook if you’re interested in new environmental research!

© Manu Saunders 2013

Great news for bees…

…with a new review published in the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability!

The authors, including renowned UK bee expert Professor Dave Goulson, present the facts about neonicotinoids and pollinators. They discuss the background to the issue, and present evidence for how these pesticides really affect all insects, including bees. Most importantly, they also explain how previous ‘field tests’ that the big political decisions are being based on, “lack the statistical power” required to be considered as true ‘evidence’.

The authors conclude:

Their wide application, persistence in soil and water and potential for uptake by succeeding crops and wild plants make neonicotinoids bioavailable to pollinators in sublethal concentrations for most of the year.

Not only is this great news for bees, it also shows how imperative it is for governments and regulatory bodies to understand and critically assess ALL the evidence before implementing policy decisions.

© Manu Saunders 2013