Findings show continued bee population decline will seriously impact wild crops and plants in just decades

An experimental study found that without bumblebees, a self-pollinating flowering plant lost a significant amount of genetic diversity in just nine generations.

Compared to another set of monkey flower plants propagated by bumblebees, a group of plants that were “self-pollinating” lost 13% to 24% of their genetic diversity.

According to the study, this loss could rob the plants of their ability to respond to environmental conditions.

The findings pointed to major problems for wild plants and agriculture that rely on bees as pollinators as bee numbers are declining in nature.

Rapid loss of genetic variation due to bee population decline

(Photo: Bianca Ackermann/Unsplash)

Experts found that when plants had to take over themselves, there were significant effects on their genomes in a relatively short period of time, according to the study’s lead author, evolutionary scientist Jeremiah Busch of Washington State University, according to ScienceDaily.

Busch noted that while pollinators such as bees are critical to biodiversity in their own right, the study showed that their rapid decline would also have potentially disastrous consequences for plants.

According to Busch, losing pollinators doesn’t just affect pollinators; plant populations would lose genetic diversity within decades, not thousands.

While scientists were aware that adopting self-pollination could harm the long-term existence of a plant species, they weren’t sure about the genetics of how it worked.

A controlled greenhouse experiment was set up by Busch’s colleagues using yellow monkey flower plants, a widespread wildflower in the western United States, in which a group of plants was separated from their bumblebee pollinators.

The non-bee plants produced few seeds at first, but when they learned to pollinate themselves, they started producing a lot.

The stamens and pistils, which are the male and female reproductive organs of the flowers, also shifted and shifted closer together to facilitate pollen transport.

Even as the self-pollinating plants multiplied, they lost genetic diversity compared to a control group that received bumblebee visits.

According to Busch, adaptation is the key to explaining these unexpected declines.

A favored genotype will spread into self-pollinating populations if it has an advantage, but any other mutations it contains will also spread if they are lucky enough to be present in that plant’s genome.

When bees visit plants, the phenomenon of “genetic hitchhiking” is significantly less clear, because the genetic diversity of the parental progeny is mixed.

Strong inbreeding significantly altered the effects of adaptation.

According to Busch, future studies should follow plants over a longer period of time to determine if and when the loss of genetic diversity is causing the population to collapse.

Also read: Bees saw themselves ‘ejaculate’ to death from severe heat

The decline in the bee population

According to preliminary findings from the 15th Annual National Survey conducted by the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership, or BIP, beekeepers in the United States lost 45.5% of their managed honeybee colonies from April 2020 to April 2021, according to Auburn University.

Since the start of the study in 2006, these losses represent the second highest loss rate (6.1% higher than the average annual loss rate of 39.4%).

The study’s findings draw attention to the continued high turnover of honeybee colonies.

This year’s increased summer and winter losses contributed to the high loss rate, and there was no discernible improvement for beekeepers and their colonies.

The poll findings will be used by BIP to learn more about beekeepers’ experience of colony losses and what can be done to reduce them in coming seasons.

Agricultural organisations, researchers and the beekeeping industry are working together to investigate why beekeepers have been experiencing increased losses in their colonies since the early 2000s and to identify best management practices to reduce such losses.

This procedure has been greatly aided by the annual BIP Colony Loss Study, which has been conducted since 2006.

Related article: Traces of microplastics have been found in honeybees, what does this do to the bees?

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