Buzz Pollination

Buzz pollination is a fascinating process employed by bumblebees and specific solitary bees. They enter the flowers, grab on, and rapidly move their flight muscles to release pollen from the flower’s anthers. Only 8% or so of the world’s flowers require buzz pollination, and one of the more charming instances I have observed was a bumblebee making valiant efforts to enter a Gentiana villosa: Gentian front yard fall 08 Crawling in head first and shaking his/her little body, it tried repeatedly to reach its’ goal. Finally succeeding, with his body nearly invisible, his presence was still obvious from the buzzing sound and oddly vibrating flower. Somewhere I have a photo of his attempts, but can’t find it at the moment. Will post that later.

In the meantime, I see that “pollen thieves” is becoming a topic of interest. Following is an abstract of an article, “High incidence of pollen theft in natural populations of a buzz-pollinated plant,” by Lislie Solís-Montero , Carlos H. Vergara, Mario Vallejo-Marín. The full article is available on Springer Link:
Pollen thieves article

More than 20,000 angiosperm species possess non-dehiscent anthers that open through small pores at the anther’s tip. These flowers are visited by bees that use vibrations to remove pollen, a phenomenon known as buzz pollination. However, some floral visitors fail to transfer pollen efficiently, either through a mismatch of flower and insect size, or because they are unable to buzz-pollinate. These visitors collect pollen, but provide little or no pollination, behaving as pollen thieves. Although pollen theft is widespread in plants, few studies have quantified the incidence of pollen thieves for buzz-pollinated plants. We use observations of natural populations and floral manipulations of Solanum rostratum (Solanaceae) to investigate the incidence of pollen theft, find morphological and behavioural differences between pollinators and thieves, measure the pollination efficiency of visitors, and characterize the reproductive ecology of this herb. We found that most visitors act as thieves, with <20 % of all bees contacting the stigma. Insect visitors that regularly failed to contact the stigma (illegitimate visitors), included buzzing and non-buzzing bees, were significantly smaller, visited fewer flowers per bout, and stayed longer in each flower than (legitimate) visitors that regularly contact the stigma. Few flowers visited solely by illegitimate visitors set fruit. Our results show that S. rostratum requires insect visitation to set seed and natural populations experience moderate pollen limitation. We conclude that insect size, relative to the flower, is the main determinant of whether a visitor acts as a pollinator or a pollen thief in S. rostratum.

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Economic Impact of native bees

bumble bee

Brett Blaauw and Rufus Isaacs recently published  their paper “Flower plantings increase wild bee abundance and the pollination services provided to a pollination-dependent crop” in the Journal of Applied Ecology, doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12257

Promoting our native bees as efficient pollinators has been underway for a while, but these Michigan State University researchers have some data that should be of interest not just to native plant and native pollinator enthusiasts, but to farmers as well.

As part of the study, marginal lands surrounding productive blueberry fields were planted with a mix of 15 native perennial wildflowers.  “The results weren’t immediate, which implied that landowners would need to be patient,” Isaacs said.

“In the first two years as the plantings established, we found little to no increase in the number of wild bees,” he said. “After that, though, the number of wild bees was twice as high as those found in our control fields that had no habitat improvements.

Once the wild bees were more abundant, more flowers turned into blueberries, and the blueberries had more seeds and were larger. Based on the results, a two-acre field planted with wildflowers adjacent to a 10-acre field of blueberries boosted yields by 10-20 percent. This translated into more revenue from the field, which can recoup the money from planting wildflowers.”

The authors do not suggest replacing honey bees, but demonstrate that adding wildflowers to attract native bees can be profitable and insures good pollination.  That requires an initial investment to establish the wildflowers, but there are sources for assistance with those costs, including the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program. 

In addition, the resulting increase in crop yields is cash in the pockets and a more secure future for native bees. 

Rusty patched bumble bee photo from The Xerces Society.



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Groundwater problems

The following is a quick, easy-to-follow representation of the status and future of the Colorado River and the people who are dependent on it, which includes millions of us. It’s worth a look:

Groundwater Depletion in the Colorado River Basin – These are the general facts and findings of a soon-to-be-published paper on groundwater depletion in the Colorado River Basin by UCCHM’s Stephanie Castle (coauthored by UCCHM’s Jay Famiglietti, Brian Thomas, JT Reager, NASA Goddard’s Matt Rodell and Sean Swenson of NCAR). Surface water in the basin has been closely monitored for years, while groundwater (an equally important resource) is slowly disappearing.

Information graphic:

Thanks to Tom Baugh for sending the information along :

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Missing bobwhite

Adult female

Photo  © Roy Brown, GA, Birdsong Plantation, Grady County, October 2010 – from the Cornell Lab or Ornithology website All About Birds


Amazingly, disturbingly, there are no reported sightings of northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) around my town in the Piedmont Triad of NC, though plenty have been spotted in surrounding towns.   Maybe no one in this area bothers to make reports, myself included.

The last I heard them here was several years ago.  Early one spring morning, when the windows were open, I was awakened by a couple of them in the back yard.  Haven’t heard them again since, and wonder if the resident hawks got them.  More likely, they decided the habitat wouldn’t support a family.

I was up visiting my brother outside of Roanoke (just shy of 4000 ft.) recently, taking photos of skunk cabbage.  While walking around, we startled 3-4 of them, who ruffled their feathers at us and flapped off.

This morning, I noticed an article on the decline in Science Daily:

Project hoping to end alarming decline of bobwhite quail

Full story

One of the most prized American hunting birds, and a cultural icon among outdoor enthusiasts, the bobwhite quail has undergone a mysterious decline that has been documented for more than 50 years. Once present by the millions in the Midwest, South and Southwest, bobwhite numbers are down as much as 80 percent in some areas.    Photo Credit: © José 16 / Fotolia

A little further research turned up some suggestions from the NC Cooperative Extension Service for improving bobwhite habitat:


  • Manage small areas of grass, brush,shrub, and woodlands in close proximity to one another
  • Thin pine stands frequently
  •  Favor wide tree spacing allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor


  • Make regeneration cuts in irregular shapes to maximize edge
  • Favor Longleaf Pine over other pines
  • Allow small hardwood patches to grow within pine types
  • Favor hardwood species that produce small, hard mast

Intermediate Treatments:

  • Keep pine stands as open as possible by thinning and burning
  • Favor berry and seed producing species along stream bottoms

Prescribed Burning:

  • Frequently burn to renew herbaceous vegetation
  • Use burns to maintain natural openings
  • Do not burn mast producing areas
  • Limit burns to winter months

This all seems like a small price to pay to bring bobwhite back.




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Germany’s Future Without Fossil Fuels Is Leaving Its Largest Power Producer Behind

Experiencing a $3.9 billion loss in 2013, RWE (Germany’s largest power producer) is finally waking up to the negative impact on their bottom line of clinging tightly to the old fossil fuel ways. With only a small renewable fleet, CEO Peter Terium  said “we were late entering into the renewables market—possibly too late.”

Read the story:

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Thoughts for 2014

Seems to me that our political and social lives have gotten far less tolerant than they used to be…even to the point of being mean and nasty in many instances.  I find that paying less attention to what passes for “journalism” on TV and in print media reduces stress…but that’s almost like putting my head in the sand.  What to do, what to do.

On New Years Day I was inspired to hope for 2014 by a part of  Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1849 poem “In Memoriam.”  Perhaps it will do the same for you.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

    The flying cloud, the frosty light;

    The year is dying in the night;

 Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.


 Ring out the old, ring in the new,

    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

    The year is going, let him go;

 Ring out the false, ring in the true.


 Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

    For those that here we see no more,

    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

 Ring in redress to all mankind.


 Ring out a slowly dying cause,

    And ancient forms of party strife;

    Ring in the nobler modes of life,

 With sweeter manners, purer laws.


 Ring out the want, the care the sin,

    The faithless coldness of the times;

    Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

 But ring the fuller minstrel in.


 Ring out false pride in place and blood,

    The civic slander and the spite;

    Ring in the love of truth and right,

 Ring in the common love of good.


  Ring out old shapes of foul disease,

    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

    Ring out the thousand wars of old,

 Ring in the thousand years of peace.


 Ring in the valiant man and free,

    The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

    Ring out the darkness of the land,

 Ring in the Christ that is to be.





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Climate Change

It may soon be commonly accepted, among the unbelievers, that climate change exists and is having an impact on our world:

I recently (during the storm that ravaged the Philippines) saw a television ad promoting Duracell batteries because “There will be more powerful storms….”

Now that the corporate world has found a way to make money by accepting the fact of climate change, can it be long before the general public finds it ever more difficult to deny??

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