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Drought and pollinators

Drought and pollinators

by blogs at woodlands, 30 November, 2021, 0 comments

Climate change is affecting all parts of the world, from the melting of the ice caps in Antarctica, to droughts in Australia and California.  On a more local level, we may see changes in our rainfall pattern.  Certainly for many parts of the UK, it has been a very dry start to the Spring, coupled with some very cold nights. Cold and dry weather affects plant growth in significant ways.  Warmth is needed for a plant’s enzymes (catalysts) to work, speeding up reactions and allowing growth.  Similarly, if water is in short supply, growth is stunted; plants do not realise their full ‘potential’. They are smaller overall as is the number and size of flowers that they produce.  Flowers attract visitors by colour, size and scent; or combinations thereof.   Smaller and fewer flowers, in turn, have ‘knock-on effects’ for their pollinators - bees, bumble bees, hoverflies etc. The effects of drought on pollination has been recently investigated by researchers at Ulm University in Germany.  They studied the effect of drought on field mustard (aka Charlock) : Sinapsis arvensis.  This is an annual plant that is to be found in fields, waysides and field margins across Europe.  It has bright yellow flowers, with four petals.  It is visited by many different pollinators (it cannot self-pollinate).   The researchers compared the number of visits by bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) to drought-stressed plants to well-watered ones.  The data showed that as the number and size of the flowers decreased so did the number of pollinator visits.  [caption id="attachment_21589" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Bumblebees also favour the teasels[/caption] The ‘attractiveness’ of the plants / flowers to pollinators was reduced, and it is possible that the smaller flowers were more difficult for relatively large pollinators (like the bumblebees) to ‘deal with’.  If pollen movement is reduced, then fewer fruits / seeds will be set and (insect pollinated) plant populations could decline.  The effects of reduced rainfall and water stress need to be considered alongside the declining number of pollinators.  The reduction in pollen movement has lead some to speculate that it might lead to a selective pressure for self-pollination / self-fertilisation, with plants dispensing with the need for visiting insects.  Other Woodlands blogs have reported on the falling numbers of insects / pollinators. Featured image : garlic mustard.
Woodland web updates 6.

Woodland web updates 6.

by blogs at woodlands, 17 September, 2021, 0 comments

Pesticides problems. The effect of pesticides on bees and bumble bees is now well documented.  However, the combined effect of different pesticides is less well known.  If pesticide A is known to kill 10% of the bees in an area that has been treated, and pesticide B kills another 10% then it might be reasonable to assume that 20% of the bees would be killed - IF the effects are additive.  However, evidence is beginning to indicate that the effects of the pesticides is more than the sum of the parts - the pesticides work together / synergistically. Pesticide formulations that are sold to farmers are often ready mixed ‘cocktails’ so exposure to more than one pesticide is often the norm,  so it is important that these co-operative effects are understood and known. Honey bees have been affected by not only pesticides but also varroa.  Varroa is a mite, which lives and feeds on honeybees and their larvae.  Fortunately, bees have complex hygienic behaviours, for example, removing dead larvae or pupae.   Research indicates that honey bees are modifying this behaviour to deal with varroa mites. Helping pollinators Researchers at the University of Freiburg have recently published work establishing the importance of semi-natural habitat regions next to orchards and other agricultural landscapes for pollinators.  Such areas (ditches, banks, overgrown fences etc) help ensure that flowers (and therefore nectar and pollen) are available over a significant period of time.  This is important for pollinators such as hover flies, solitary bees, bumblebees etc. as nectar / pollen provided by crops is only available for a short and limited period.  Such areas are also important for overwintering, nesting sites, providing food for larval stages etc).  Their work focused on orchards near Lake Constance in Southern Germany. Soil remediation with lupins. There are many sites around the world where the soil is contaminated with metals (such as arsenic) as a result of past mining / industrial activities.  Such arsenic contaminated soil might be ‘revived’ by using the natural mechanisms that some plants have evolved to deal with certain contaminants.   The white lupin (Lupinus alba) is an arsenic-tolerant plant that might be a candidate for phytoremediation of soil.  The tolerance of the white lupin to arsenic is thought to be due to the release of chemicals by the roots into the soil.  Staff at the University de Montréal placed nylon pouches close to the roots to capture the molecule released.  The chemicals were then analysed to see which could bind to the arsenic (phytochelatins).  Phytochelatins are known to be used within plants to deal with metals but here they seem to be used externally.  Quite how they work is yet to be determined.

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