Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How Rising CO2 Levels May Contribute to Die-Off of Bees - by Lisa Palmer

As they investigate the factors behind the decline of bee populations, scientists are now eyeing a new culprit — soaring levels of carbon dioxide, which alter plant physiology and significantly reduce protein in important sources of pollen.

Honeybees feed on goldenrod flowers. (Credit: SteveBurt/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Specimens of goldenrod sewn into archival paper folders are stacked floor to ceiling inside metal cabinets at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  The collection, housed in the herbarium, dates back to 1842 and is among five million historical records of plants from around the world cataloged there.  Researchers turned to this collection of goldenrod — a widely distributed perennial plant that blooms across North America from summer to late fall — to study concentrations of protein in goldenrod pollen because it is a key late-season food source for bees.  

The newer samples look much like the older generations.  But scientists testing the pollen content from goldenrod collected between 1842 and 2014, when atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide rose from about 280 parts per million to 398 ppm, found the most recent pollen samples contained 30 percent less protein.  The greatest drop in protein occurred from 1960 to 2014, when the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose dramatically.  A field experiment in the same study that exposed goldenrod to CO2 levels ranging from 280 to 500 ppm showed similar protein decreases. 

More than 100 previous studies have shown that elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide decrease the nutritional value of plants, such as wheat and rice.  But the goldenrod study, published last month, was the first to examine the effects of rising CO2 on the diet of bees, and its conclusions were unsettling:  The adverse impact of rising CO2 concentrations on the protein levels in pollen may be playing a role in the global die-off of bee populations by undermining bee nutrition and reproductive success. 

Read more at How Rising CO2 Levels May Contribute to Die-Off of Bees

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