Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bees Boost Irish Economy

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have shown that bees contribute almost €4 million to the Irish economy each year, simply by improving seed production in crops of oilseed rape.

Known for its brilliant yellow flowers, oilseed rape is being grown to an increasing extent in Ireland as farmers respond to a heightened demand for pure plant oil. This oil is an important source of biofuel and could ultimately reduce our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels as we seek greener, more environmentally friendly solutions to energy demands.

The crop is pollinated adequately by the wind, but, for the first time in Ireland, researchers were able to show that foraging bees transferring pollen from flower to flower greatly boost the all-important yield. When bees were experimentally excluded from visiting the flowers, seed production was, on average, 27% lower than when they had open access.

This discovery, which will soon appear in the international Journal of Insect Conservation, added to related findings that were reported in another article in the journal GCB Bioenergy. Both papers sprang from research conducted as part of the Sectoral Impacts on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (SIMBIOSYS) initiative, which received €1.6 million in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency over a five-year period.

In addition to the discovery that bees are important assets to oilseed rape farmers, the previous paper showed that these fields were buzzing with insect life comprising many species of bees, hoverflies and beetles.

Associate Professor in Botany at Trinity, and Director of the Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research, Jane Stout, who was the principal investigator on both papers said: “Oilseed rape fields are full of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies. Although many people think of the honeybee as being our main pollinating species, bumblebees and hoverflies are also important pollinators of oilseed rape crops. We found hundreds of bees, especially in spring oilseed rape, where we estimated on average 600-800 colonies of bumblebees alone using the pollen and nectar from just one field.”

The diversity and sheer volume of pollinators in oilseed rape crops came as something of a happy surprise, because some reports had previously suggested that swathes of the plant might discourage farm-friendly insects. However, researchers caution that different patterns could arise when the crop is grown on a larger scale than was investigated. They also recommend interspersing fields that grow food and biofuel crops in the hope that such a patchwork quilt-like pattern will promote insect diversity and enhance the precious pollination service provided by the critters.

Researcher Dara Stanley, who worked with Stout on these projects, added: "Oilseed rape crops in Ireland are expanding hugely, and, if they benefit from pollination, this is both good news for farmers, and an incentive to conserve bees in agricultural areas.”

One major threat to bees comes from the use of certain pesticides called neo-nicotinoids, which have been implicated in recent declines of many species throughout Europe and North America. An EU ban preventing the use of these pesticides on oilseed rape was recently agreed, which will hopefully help the bees of Ireland keep up their good work in our farmers’ fields. However, there are concerns that use on other crops, which is still permitted, will negatively affect our furry friends.

Science on film - biodiversity in the gardens

Ireland's first and only dedicated science film festival, the UCD Science Expression Film Festival will take place from Thursday 31st October - Friday 3rd November. 

The 2013 edition of UCD Science Expression showcases some of the most exciting filmmaking inspired by and excavating science - from classic movies seen in a very different light to world-class features and shorts premiering at UCD Science Expression. The festival presents screenings, events and debate for enquiring minds of all ages.

Festival 2013 takes a unique journey through key themes including The Mind, Land & Identity, Frontiers of Discovery and Biodiversity and Ecology in The Lighthouse, IFI, Botanic Gardens and The Ark in Dublin.

See the full range of events on the festical website.

Sure to be a highlight is Biodiversity at the National Botanic Gardens. Taking place in Ireland's only inflatable cinema from Friday November 1st to Sunday November 3rd, the event will celebrate the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity with an eclectic programme of short films, inspiring wonder in the natural world.
Best of all, there's free entry and it gives you a chance to also check out the gardens' new sculpture celebrating the 60th anniversary of the discovery of DNA.

"What is Life" is a sculpture which was commissioned by Professors John Atkins of University College Cork and David McConnell of Trinity College Dublin as a public celebration of Science in Ireland and to specifically celebrate the 60th anniversary of the discovery of The Double Helix by Watson and his colleague Francis Crick in April 1953.

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