When Flowers are Few, Wild Bees Rely on Nectar Alternative, Florida Researcher Finds

Aug 25, 2017
Originally published on August 24, 2017 2:16 pm

Bees often bring to mind images of large hives dripping with honey and buzzing with the common honey bee. But thousands of North American bee species live solitary lives gathering the nectar and pollen they need to survive. A new study by a University of Florida Ph.D. student found these lonely bees using innovative strategies to get the sugar they need when flowers are scarce.

Observing more than 40 wild bee species in California national park, Joan Meiners—a Ph.D. student at IFAS School of Natural Resources and Environment—found the wild bees turning to alternative fuel sources when they couldn't collect the nectar and pollen they need for energy and reproduction. 

That alternative fuel: honeydew, a sugar-rich secretion from tiny plant-eating insects that Meiners found the bees were eating as a stopgap measure to meet their energy needs. It's a strategy she says the bees may increasingly rely on in the face of climate change disrupting the rhythms of flowering and hibernation bees have evolved to follow.

Meiners joins Gulf Coast Live to talk about her research, how she came to understand why wild bees may come to use honeydew as food, and how disruptions to the bees natural rhythms may point to larger ecological stressors for the bees.

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