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"Bee Minus" -- The Discovery Files

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Emory University and UC-Santa Cruz ecologists find that if even one bumblebee species is removed from an ecosystem that pollination is less effective and plants produce significantly fewer seeds.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Plan bee

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: bee sounds) In the last decade, scientists have reported sharp declines in bee populations. While computer models can predict theoretical scenarios of the impact, for ecologists at Emory University and the University of California, Santa Cruz, there's nothing like a little field work. (Sound effect: outdoor sounds) In this case, in a sub-alpine meadow near Crested Butte, Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at 9,500 feet, there are not a lot of honeybees but during the summer this place is teeming with 11 species of bumblebees. Ten of which love a purple wildflower called a larkspur.

Marking off a series of plots of these wildflowers, the researchers were able to get up-close and personal. They evaluated each plot in its natural state and in a manipulated state, where the team painstakingly remove one species of bee. (Sound effect: cartoon bee shouts) The researchers actually followed some of the bees to monitor how behavior differed in the manipulated plots compared to the natural ones.

Removing just one bumblebee species from an ecosystem had demonstrably clear effects: Pollination was less effective and the flowers produced one-third less seeds. Apparently less competition causes less specialization. The effect is way more profound than previous computer models have shown. (Sound effect: single bee sound) To know the bee--you must be the bee.

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