Bees and other plant pollinating species are reducing in number due to the detrimental effects of climate change. So, what’s all the buzz about? Bees are more important than initially thought, while you may think that dropping bee numbers is minor in comparison to other effects of climate change, 90% of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollination. Bees are just one type of pollinator that support the reproduction and survival of plants, but they are fundamentally important to the future of biodiversity, forest regeneration and food diversity. World bee day takes place this month on the 20th of May, so why not bee supportive of the campaign.
How climate change is causing bee extinction, and what this means.
Bees carry out the process of pollination on flowering plants, which enables them to reproduce and grow. Flowering does not just refer to garden plants but also to food plants as well. For the plants to be pollinated, bees transfer pollen from the male part of the plant to the female through fertilisation once the flower has been located. Bees are attracted to the flowering plants through visual (plant colours) and olfactory cues (floral scents that are unique to each type of flower). However, the increased atmospheric temperature, induced by climate change, pose plant stress that inhibits bee to flower attraction. This is because different plants are only adapted survive in temperature specific conditions. Plant stress then ultimately causes an alteration of plants scents, as when a plant senses a potential threat, the flower releases defensive protective chemical compounds thus repelling away bees. Since bees cannot sense the known appropriate olfactory cues, the plants are not pollinated, and the bees cannot obtain their food so both die off over time.
Pollinating honeybee (Pixels.com, 2023)
Aside from climate change, bees are also threatened by pesticide use, mono-cropping and intensive farming as these human actions reduce the abundance of potential flowering plants that bees can attend to. Currently bee extinction is 1000 times higher than normal due to the human accelerated effects of climate change, which is worrying since 25,000 out of 30,000 bee species are pollinators.
With reduced pollination, also comes a reduction in food diversity. If pollinating species are not protected into the future, we will have fewer access to colourful fruits, vegetables and nuts, and we will live off a blander diet of wheat, barley and grains. In addition, the failing survival/adaptation of plant species will exacerbate the already depleting biodiversity of our ecosystems. The UK is one of the world’s most biodiversity depleted countries (bottom 10% globally), which means less carbon sequestration and an increased threat to plant & animal species, including bees!
How to save the bees
There are many ways you can help protect the future of bees:
- Not mowing your lawn: By not mowing your lawn you are letting plant species thrive, which will attract bees and other pollinators.
- Create or buy a bee hotel: By installing a wooden bee hotel in your garden, you will attract more bees and supply a safe space for bee hibernation. There are two large bee hotels on our university campus, one South of the agriculture building and another at the London Road campus. If you want to make a bee hotel, click this link: How to make a bee hotel | The Wildlife Trusts
- Do not use pesticides or weedkillers in your garden
- Introduce bee- loving plants in your garden or place them on your balcony: These plants can include heather, daisies, red clover or anything colourful and flowering.
- Keep up with local activities: The University has a Bee Team, which focuses on the enhancement and protection of bee and pollinating species population. Click this link for more information: Reading bee team – The science behind efforts to save pollinators
By Julia Cope
How Does Climate Change Affect Bees? – WorldAtlas
How to make a bee hotel | The Wildlife Trusts
Design a bee hotel competition – Institute of Education (reading.ac.uk)
Biodiversity loss risks ‘ecological meltdown’ – scientists – BBC News
Biodiversity and Ecosystems – Committees – UK Parliament
Reading bee team – The science behind efforts to save pollinators
RHS plant & gardening scientific research & science projects / RHS Gardening