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article imageClimate change is disrupting pollination, world's food supply

By Karen Graham     Nov 9, 2014 in Environment
Milder winters and earlier spring weather has made many people climate-change converts. But the consequences to spring coming earlier than we are accustomed to has effects most people don't think about.
Spring temperatures have been increasing for the past 25 years, and most organisms have responded to the change. Just look at the flowers that start blooming earlier, the number of insects out and about. But scientists have started looking more closely at the responses organisms have to temperature-induced changes, and in particular pollination.
Dr Karen Robbirt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the University of East Anglia (UEA). along with her research team, utilized a combination of modern-day research, old records and data from Victorian bee keepers dating back to 1848 in a unique research project. The project demonstrates for the first time how climate change threatens flower pollination and to a greater extent, the world's food supply.
Andrena nigroaenaea from Commanster  Belgian High Ardennes .
Andrena nigroaenaea from Commanster, Belgian High Ardennes .
James K. Lindsey
The research team published their findings in Current Biology on Thursday, November 6.Robbirt said, “We have shown that plants and their pollinators show different responses to climate change and that warming will widen the time-line between bees and flowers emerging. If replicated in less specific systems, this could have severe implications for crop productivity.”
Focusing on the early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) and the Miner bee Andrena nigroaenea) on which it depends for reproduction, the team discovered that the responses of the miner bee have become increasingly out-of-sync with the maturing orchid. They concluded that as spring temperatures have risen because of climate change, the warming has widened the time-line between flowers and bees emerging.
Ophrys sphegodes (Early spider orchid) plants growing on Samphire Hoe near Dover.
Ophrys sphegodes (Early spider orchid) plants growing on Samphire Hoe near Dover.
In an interesting discovery, the scientists found that when the spider orchid emerges, the males bees are drawn to the flower by the release of a sex pheromone smelling like a female miner bee. The male bee engages in pseudo-copulation with the flower while at the same time, pollinating the flower.
But records show that with the orchid emerging earlier because of a warming climate, the male bees are reaching maturity at slightly different times, due to the same changes in temperature, causing pseudo-copulation to get out-of-sync. Robbirt said this is "the first clear example, supported by long-term data, of the potential for climate change to disrupt critical [pollination] relationships between species.”
The information gleaned from the research has implications for the world's food supply. Three-fourths of all our food crops depend on pollination, not just from bees, bur other insects. These same pollinators have suffered greatly in the past few decades from disease, pesticides and loss of flowery habitat.
How much do you like your coffee? Coffee trees depend on bees for pollination. Shown here is Coffea ...
How much do you like your coffee? Coffee trees depend on bees for pollination. Shown here is Coffea arabica blooms.
Marcelo Corrêa
Professor Anthony Davy, at UEA, and a member of the research team says: “There will be progressive disruption of pollination systems with climatic warming, which could lead to the breakdown of co-evolved interactions between species.” The research highlights just how delicate the balance that exists in nature really is between the timing of growth and reproduction between organisms.
More about Climate change, Pollination, warmer spring temperatures, world's food production, Pollinators
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