City livin': bees get busier in urban areas

Bumblebees found to pollinate more flowers in cities than the countryside.

22nd June 2016
City livin': bees get busier in urban areas © iStock

It seems that the fast pace of city life even rubs off on bees. A study in Germany has found that bees pollinate plants more often in the city than the surrounding countryside.

Researchers at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) placed plants at nine locations in and around Halle (Saale) in central-eastern Germany – some in the city centre, others in agricultural areas outside the city. During flowering season, the scientists kept a record of the number and frequency of insects visiting the plants.

They discovered that the plants were pollinated more often by insects in the urban areas – especially by bumblebees. 

"The study vividly shows how poor conditions are for the wild bees and the plants they pollinate in the modern farmed environment," says Prof Robert Paxton at MLU. On the flipside, conditions in urban areas tend to be more bee-friendly: people in cities generally cultivate more flowers, which increases plant diversity and attracts more bees.

The downside is that the city bees were found to be more infected with parasites, which can affect their digestive systems and shorten their lifespans. This doesn't, however, seem to affect these bees' ability to pollinate plants.

Next, the researchers will look at how parasite infections can affect other wild bees – something that might help to explain the observed decline in bee numbers.

In the meantime, perhaps we should think about installing a few coffee houses for those busy city bees.

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