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Another sting in the tail of climate change…

Climate change could be disrupting the relationship between bees and plants according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

A just published study reveals that warmer springs cause changes in the life cycle of bees – throwing them out of synchronisation with the plants they pollinate.The research is the first clear example of the potential for climate change to disrupt critical co-evolutionary relationships between species. 

Researchers studied long-term trends in historical records dating back to 1848. Records of a solitary bee (Andrena nigroaenea) from museum specimens were compared with the records of flowering time of the Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) and Met Office climate records.

They found that warmer springs cause orchids to flower earlier. But this does not correspond exactly with the earlier flying of the bees.The study shows that male bees fly around nine days earlier for each degree increase in average early spring temperature. Meanwhile female bees emerge slightly later than males, near peak orchid pollination time. 

Researcher Dr Karen Robbirt from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences said: “These orchids have evolved so that when Spring comes, their flowers appear at the same time as this specific bee - making pollination possible. But we have shown that plants and their pollinators show different responses to climate change, and that warming will widen the timeline between bees and flowers emerging. If replicated in less specific systems, this could have severe implications for crop productivity.” 

University of East Anglia | Global | Environment

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