University of Sussex researchers did a controlled experiment to reveal how higher wind speed reduces the foraging efficiency of honeybees. Bees and other pollinators may struggle in the higher and more frequent winds caused by global warming. Georgia Hennessy was the lead author of this research, published in the journal Animal Behaviour.  

The research scientists used sugar water feeders to lure the honeybees into a garden shed, fed them from a fake flower, then wind-blasted them with a cheap fan before timing them to see how many fake flowers they could visit in 90 seconds. Normally these bees fly from their hives on campus gardens and feed on wildflowers.

This 0:44-second long video from New Scientist is about how honeybees try to overcome wind as a group, compared to how individual foragers cope with blustery winds:

Only a solitary bee at a time was permitted into the shed, and timed video footage was taken of their visits to the artificial flowers at different fan speeds which were mimicking calm, windy and blustery days out in nature. Researchers also examined the indirect impact of higher winds by moving flowers.

When no wind was present, the bees took nectar from 5.45 flowers on average during a 90-second trial. Increased wind speeds caused these numbers to fall to an average of 3.73 flowers, according to the study. Over the course of a day, this would represent a considerable impact on a bee’s capacity to bring home the nectar.

The study revealed that air movement from fans made bees more hesitant to take off from a flower, with the timing range from 0.05 seconds initially to 54 seconds. Actual flower movement did not seem to have any effect on the bees.

Hennessy points out that a possible reason the wind caused hesitancy was due to small increases in wind speed reducing the body temperature of the bees, requiring them to take longer to warm up their flight muscles prior to take off. Also, the honeybees may have awaited a lull in the wind so they could take off, since wind gusts occur frequently in nature.

A particularly windy summer, according to Hennessy, could affect honey bees.

Wind speeds are expected to rise in the coming years, so understanding how to help bees and other pollinators in a changing climate is ever more pressing. Placing hives in locations where there is ample shelter from winds in order to minimize wind impact on pollinators would be useful, since we can’t stop the wind or even control it.

Declining global bee populations are a “threat to global food security and nutrition” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Insect pollinators have many challenges and pressures to deal with already, so having to adjust to gusty weather due to climate change may overwhelm them further.

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