Agasthya 5.2 Will the symphony of flowering trees and their pollinators be jeopardized?
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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No flowers no bees; no bees no fruits; no fruits no monkeys. We all know that the little bee and its likes play a larger role in sustaining plant species both in the wild and managed landscapes than one can imagine. Recently there was a situation of `yes flowers and no bees' which raged Europe and USA. What was called as Colony Col lapse Disorder (CCD), whereby the bees d i s a p p e a r e d d u e t o a mysterious disease, leading to a loss of 212 billion USD. Part of this woe has been dependence on mobile bee keeping practice where the bee boxes are moved from one cropping land to other. As a result of loss of wilderness around farmlands, which supports substantial diversity of pollinators, the situation of dependence on single species of bees as the only pollinator has arisen. Such monoculture of pollinator species is highly vulnerable to diseases. In India fortunately, we still have the services of many bee species which straddle between the forests and other wilderness areas to crop lands. In the wet forests of Agasthyamalai, rock bees (Apis dorsata) move between crops and plantations in the foot hills to 1200m elevation in the hills respectively. One species, Palaquium ellipticum, which flowers towards the end of the dry season, attracts the bees that make open hives in lofty trees, challenging the pre-monsoonal showers but in tune with the flowering of Palaquium. Having realized that No Palaquium = no rock bees' in this forest, we initiated a monitoring of the hives during Palaqium flowering. There were leap and leans years of flowering. An impending jeopardy in this interaction could serve as an early warning system to changes that are likely to follow such a upset in the interactions. For example, the mismatch between hive density and flowering intensity of the Palaquium can indicate that something is wrong with the bees elsewhere, which is somewhat similar to what happened with Apis cerana, a closely related species of rock bee that suffered from the Thai Sac brood disease. It eventually led to the collapse of heir colony. Fall in honey production was perceived during this period but the pollination role of bees went unnoticed as here was no monitoring program of bees' interactions with their food-plants. Land-use change can be another contributing factor. There is clear evidence of rock bees making a sequential staggered migration tracking resources from croplands at the base, to the wet forests in the hills following a `nectar corridor' in different seasons. Large scale land-use and land cover changes in lowlands can also jeopardize the interactions, as the wet forest site, dominated by Palaquium ellipticum, the final destination of the rock bees in a year. Such long-term information can also be useful to assess the climate change, its bearing on phenology and its cascading effects on such complex ecological interactions. Monitoring a keystone interaction as one cited here could be a good indicator of a better understanding of the dynamics of the forest rather than monitoring only the pollinators.


                                                                                                             & nbsp;                                                           

Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salegame

Volume 5,  Issue 2
      July 2011

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Will the symphony of flowering trees and their pollinators be jeopardized?
-Soubadra Devy
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