Science News
from research organizations

Flower declines shrink bee tongues

Date:
September 24, 2015
Source:
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Summary:
Climate-related changes in flower diversity have resulted in a decrease in the length of alpine bumble bees' tongues, a new study reports, leaving these insects poorly suited to feed from and pollinate the deep flowers they were adapted to previously.
Share:
FULL STORY

Queen bumble bee, Bombus balteatus, is foraging on Oxytropis sericea flowers on the alpine tundra of Pennsylvania Mountain.
Credit: Christine Carson

Climate-related changes in flower diversity have resulted in a decrease in the length of alpine bumble bees' tongues, a new study reports, leaving these insects poorly suited to feed from and pollinate the deep flowers they were adapted to previously. The results highlight how certain mutually beneficial ecological partnerships can be lost due to shifts in climate.

Many co-evolved species have precisely matched traits; for example, long-tongued bumble bees are well adapted for obtaining nectar from deep flowers with long corolla tubes. Recent studies suggest long-tongued bumble bees are declining in number. To better understand why, Nicole Miller-Struthman et al. studied several high-altitude sites in Colorado where two species of long-tongued alpine bumble bee live.

Using bumble bee specimens from 1966 through 1980, and from 2012 through 2014, the researchers measured changes in tongue length, noticing a significant shortening.

Next, using archived bee specimens and field surveys of bumble bees and host plants, they examined possible mechanisms for this change. It was not a result of decreasing body size, competition from invaders, or co-evolution with flowers in the area, they report.

Instead, it is a result of warming summers, which reduced numbers of the deep flowers these species preferred, forcing the insects to be general foragers capable of feeding across remaining flowers, including many shallow flowers.

The pattern seen here may predict future effects of climate change in other systems, the authors say.

Their results highlight how climate change can decouple well-established mutualisms between bees and plants.


Story Source:

Materials provided by American Association for the Advancement of Science. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. N. E. Miller-Struttmann, J. C. Geib, J. D. Franklin, P. G. Kevan, R. M. Holdo, D. Ebert-May, A. M. Lynn, J. A. Kettenbach, E. Hedrick, C. Galen. Functional mismatch in a bumble bee pollination mutualism under climate change. Science, 2015; 349 (6255): 1541 DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0868

Cite This Page:

American Association for the Advancement of Science. "Flower declines shrink bee tongues." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 September 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150924151403.htm>.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2015, September 24). Flower declines shrink bee tongues. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150924151403.htm
American Association for the Advancement of Science. "Flower declines shrink bee tongues." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150924151403.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

MORE COVERAGE

RELATED STORIES