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Warming climate causes honeybees to oversleep flower bloom

The Local · 10 Jun 2011, 16:21

Published: 10 Jun 2011 16:21 GMT+02:00

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As the first blossoms emerged and nature awoke this spring, one animal was conspicuously absent: the honeybee.

The bees apparently overslept their annual call to action, said bee expert Jürgen Tautz of the University of Würzburg.

“With the change of the climate, we are seeing a growing disparity between temperatures and the first flight activity of bees,” he explained.

Researchers have established that the European spring begins about 2.5 days earlier every 10 years. But this year, the early rise in temperature appears to have left the bees out in the cold.

Raimund Henneken, a doctoral candidate at the Technical University of Munich, is researching how honeybees react to higher spring temperatures.

“Bees are directly dependent on the climate through the ambient temperature, and indirectly dependent on it through flowering plants,” Henneken explained.

“That’s why it is useful to observe bee colonies year after year in the spring months,” he added, “so that, later, one can draw conclusions about the behaviour of bees in relation to climate change.”

A project initiated by Henneken dubbed “Climate Bee” focuses on a crucial aspect of bees' lives: the swarms, which bee colonies use to reproduce.

Bees require several weeks of mild weather before they can swarm. The insects must be physically fit and must have multiplied so much that space in their previous home – a hollow tree trunk or an artificial bee hive, for instance – becomes tight.

When the colony finally disperses on a warm and sunny day, a phenomenon occurs like one Henneken observed in Munich this May, when a thick black mass of bees set its sights on a single flower pot, until a beekeeper came to round them up.

“If they hadn’t been caught, they would have left after two, three days at the latest,” Henneken said.

Then, with the old queen in tow, the swarm searches for a new home. This episode occurs several thousand times in Germany between the months of May and July.

Beekeepers can predict this event when they find so-called “queen cells” in a hive. If beekeepers fail to find these cells, sooner or later a swarm of bees appears in the immediate vicinity.

At this vital moment, Henneken’s research depends on the astute awareness of ordinary citizens.

Using GPS coordinates, the date and weather data from the German Weather Service, Henneken has created a so-called “swarm exchange”, a website and text message notification service that allows bee enthusiasts to report any swarm they happen to spot.

In his own way, Henneken has taken advantage of the “swarm” concept by using the eyes and ears of nature lovers to supplement his research.

“The response has been very good so far,” he said. “More than 1,000 swarms have been reported, especially in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia."

Fewer reports have come from regions in eastern Germany or near the coast.

“Especially in rural areas, it is difficult to make beekeepers aware of this project,” he said.

Many beekeepers are seniors without access to mobile phones or the internet. Rural regions also have fewer people to observe and report swarms of bees.

Story continues below…

An authoritative evaluation would need reports from areas distributed as evenly as possible across Germany.

“The initial goal is to assess in detail the swarming behaviour of bees,” Henneken said. After several years of research, it will be possible to draw conclusions on the effect of climate change on bees.

But from his current data, Henneken can already establish a strong correlation between temperature and swarm activity.

Tautz considers the project a “great thing”, and expects the research to draw fundamentally new conclusions about the honeybee.

In his research, Henneken has also referenced a study made in the 1970s, in which American researcher Thomas Seeley also attempted to analyze bee swarm behaviour.

But Henneken speculates that his own data, with the benefits of modern media technology, will provide conclusions far more lasting and precise.

DPA/The Local/adn

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Your comments about this article

17:06 June 10, 2011 by marimay
I think honey bees are really cute.
21:53 June 10, 2011 by Nemo2010
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
02:36 June 11, 2011 by rfwilson
It's funny that after an unusually hard winter and cold temperatures, as soon as a stretch of warmer weather comes, the Global Warming whiners come out of the woodwork.

In fact, the claimed mechanism that was supposed to trigger massive manmade global warming, that all Global Warming scenarios are based on, has be shown to be false. In this theory, it was claimed that small increases in temperature caused by manmade CO2, would cause increases in water vapour evaporating from oceans. Water vapour is a MUCH more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, and it was this increase in water vapour was believed to trigger global warming.

Well, they were wrong! There has been no evidence of increased levels of water vapour in the atmosphere. all that happened was that any increases in water evaporation, simply fell back as rain instead of staying in the atmosphere as water vapour. All climate computer models are based on this false assumption, and are therefore meaningless.

But none of this matters to true believers in the global warming religion!
14:56 June 11, 2011 by jbaker
We need the Global Warming God to help us - Where is Al Gore? Is Global Warming the cause of Bean Sprout E-Coli? What would we do without these informative articles?
00:58 June 15, 2011 by melliphile
Comment: @ rfwilson and jbaker: While you're busy whining about the whiners, look at this: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/detect/global-temps.shtml No one doubts that global warming exists. It's very simple to observe. All you need is a thermometer and a calender. You can make all kinds of speculation as to why global temps are rising, but make no mistake, the Earth is experiencing a warming trend. Raimund Henneken observes "a growing disparity between temperatures and the first flight activity of bees¦quot;. If you consume food, this will affect you since honeybees pollinate roughly 2/3 of the global food supply. Later spring flights mean some early crops may fail due to a lack of pollinators. Politicize it all you want, but it 's happening and humans need to cope with it no matter what the reasons.
18:04 June 15, 2011 by Choey
Since when do bees "sleep" through the winter? Bees do not hibernate. My bees are wide awake keeping the hive warm and if we get a warm winter day they are buzzing around outside the hive. In addition it has been necessary for me to feed them in late spring because our springs have been coming late the last several years and they run the risk of running out of food.

Germany must have some very strange bees and very strange weather.
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