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Association of excessive precipitation and agricultural land use with honey bee colony performance

April 13, 2023

Context: From landscape variables to weather, multiple environmental factors affect honey bees and other pollinators. Detailed honey bee colony assessments in a variety of landscape and weather conditions offer the opportunity to develop a mechanistic understanding of how landscape composition, configuration, and weather are associated with colony nutrition, demography, and productivity.

Objectives: Our objective was to test if weather and landscape characteristics (e.g., agricultural versus forested land use) are associated with different honey bee colony outcomes (foraged nectar mass, foraged pollen mass, pupal population size, and adult population size change).

Methods: We collected detailed colony measurements on over 450 honey bee colonies over four years across an agricultural-to-forested land use gradient in Michigan, USA.

Results: We found that higher than normal precipitation in the preceding spring and fall was negatively correlated with colony size change and with foraged nectar mass, respectively. Sites surrounded by less agricultural land and more forested land also had fewer pupae by the end of summer.

Conclusions: These inter-dependent colony metrics offer insights into environmental-plant-pollinator dynamics. Our finding that extreme weather events, associated with climate change, are negatively correlated with colony performance point to likely lagged effects of weather on pollinator floral resources. Landscapes managed with climate-resilient, temporally continuous floral resources are likely to support pollinators. Capturing extreme weather phenomena in field studies is a valuable way to investigate the associations between land use, climate change and biological systems. However, caution should be taken in overinterpreting observational studies, so further research is needed.

Publication Year 2023
Title Association of excessive precipitation and agricultural land use with honey bee colony performance
DOI 10.1007/s10980-023-01638-6
Authors Gabriela Quinlan, Rufus Isaacs, Clint R.V. Otto, Autumn H. Smart, Meghan O. Milbrath
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Landscape Ecology
Index ID 70250347
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center