The timing has been beautifully choreographed by nature. Rising spring temperatures prompt many bee species to begin their search for the flowering plants they depend on for food -- and which they propagate through pollination. But what would happen if this vital, mutually beneficial relationship goes out of synch due to climate change? That's what
According to Bunker and DeVan, the consequences could be dire if this relationship unravels as a result of global climate change, consequences that include poor crop pollination and lower yields. In one troubling scenario, the pollinating bees may respond strongly to climate warming and emerge earlier in the growing season, while their preferred flowers respond less strongly and emerge later. Such a mismatch in timing could severely impact both bees and plants, and the productivity of many agricultural crops.
A local outdoor laboratory
DeVan became interested in climate change and the ecological role of bees after majoring in environmental studies and ecology at the
Looking at areas relatively close to NJIT that might be suitable as research sites, DeVan found that
"We realized that
Out and about early
To enlist the
At this point, the researchers are still fine-tuning their experimental techniques, which include affixing micro-tags to the backs of the bees while they are still dormant in their cocoons. A video camera placed at each nest will allow building a database of the bees' response to manipulated changes in their natural schedule, and how their well-being might be affected by corresponding disruptions caused by climate change.
The tags on the bees, a special variant of the widely used Quick Response "QR" code, will make it possible to monitor individual bees using computer-assisted image recognition, which is being developed under the lead of NJIT Associate Professor of Biology Gareth Russell. Physical examination of pollen in the nests also is expected to yield information about the food sources the bees visit, and analysis of the ratio of females to males to provide indications about how temperature variation may affect reproduction.
This effort could help to answer key questions about the possible impact of climate change on agriculture. At large and foraging for food before their normal sources are available, bees may not be able to adapt. DeVan emphasizes that this could devastate the cycle of plant pollination and reproduction. Or bees may adapt by feeding on different plants that flower earlier. While this could be a positive sign that bees are adaptable, it also may mean they are feeding on less nutritious plants, which could have a deleterious impact on bee populations.
For the solitary cavity-nesting bees, starting to forage earlier because they are out of synch with the flowering of their food sources could keep them away from their nests for longer periods. This, too, presents a potential threat. It may give flies, wasps and other predators greater opportunities to attack undefended eggs and larvae. As a result, it may be necessary to devise new strategies for protecting and managing these vital pollinators.
The data that Bunker and DeVan anticipate collecting over the next few years could confirm a disturbing possibility -- that the critical relationship between temperature-sensitive bees and the plants they pollinate is in danger. Yet they may find that pollinators such as the bees at
NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls 10,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges:
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/05/prweb11837482.htm
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