Bee population decline caused by changing landscape

The decline in the bee population could be the result of poor diet caused by the changing nature of the British landscape, according to the results of a new study.

Researchers from Lancaster University analysed 35 hives over 20 sites across the North West of England and found that honeybees living near large areas of farmland had lower levels of protein in their diets, leaving them more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides, disease and winter than bees living near natural grasslands and woods.

The study involved testing the nutritional value of “beebread” – a foodstuff consumed by the hive from collected pollen – and combining the results with land-use data that had been collected by the 2007 Countryside survey.
The results showed that protein levels in beebread produced near farmland was lower than that produced in areas that had been left in their natural state.

Lead researcher Philip Donkersley said: “Honeybees have different nutritional requirements at different stages of their lives, with larvae primarily requiring protein. We already know from previous studies that larvae with lower dietary protein intake may not live as long and may have reduced immune function. This study shows a clear link between landscape and the nutritional ecology of insects.

“We don’t suggest that we need to get rid of farming to solve this problem – rather that by modifying the food sources available to bees in agricultural areas we could improve their diet and their chances of survival, which could increase their capacity to pollinate crops.”

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