Bees, birds and butter: New study shows biodiversity critical for shea crop in Africa

Image of woman processing shea nuts.

(EurekAlert/Trinity College Dublin) Shea trees, an important agroforestry crop in West Africa, benefit from bees moving pollen between their flowers to produce fruit. A new study found that in sites with low tree and shrub diversity, fruit production was severely limited by a lack of pollination. In higher-diversity sites, more honey bees were observed, and other bees visited flowers in greater numbers, boosting pollination services.

Buried under colonial concrete, Botany Bay has even been robbed of its botany

Image of Xanthorrhoea plants.

(The Conversation) The HMS Endeavour’s week-long stay on the shores of Kamay in 1770 yielded so many botanical specimens unknown to western science, Captain James Cook called the area Botany Bay. Today, however, the site better reflects 20th-century European exploitation of the Australian landscape than it does early or pre-British Botany Bay. Yet not all is lost. “We studied pollen released from flowering plants and conifers, which can accumulate and preserve in sediment layers through time. Looking at this preserved pollen lets us develop a timeline of vegetation change over hundreds to thousands of years.”

Mowing urban lawns less intensely increases biodiversity, saves money and reduces pests

Image of lawns.

(British Ecological Society) The issue with regular lawn mowing is that it favors grasses, which grow from that base of the plant, and low growing species like dandelion and clover. Other species that have their growing tips or flowering stems regularly removed by mowing can’t compete. Allowing plant diversity in urban lawns to increase has the knock-on effect of increasing the diversity of other organisms such as pollinators and herbivores. Pest species, on the other hand, benefitted from more intense lawn mowing.

Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change

Chart showing different categories of nature's contributions assessed.

(Science) Although previous large-scale environmental assessments have documented how human actions have been driving biodiversity loss and ecosystem deterioration, a recent global assessment provides an interdisciplinary and comprehensive synthesis of the evidence. It paints the clearest picture yet of how, despite humanity’s profound dependence on nature, we are altering it at a truly planetary scale, with impacts that are distributed very unequally around the world and among sectors of society. Pollination and seed dispersal is one of the 18 categories that were assessed – and it showed a consistent downward trend over the past 50 years.

Urban growth causes more biodiversity loss outside of cities

Image of heavy machinery doing demolition work.

(iDiv) By 2030, more than 2 billion additional people are expected to be living in cities, a pace of urban growth that is the equivalent to building a city the size of New York City every six weeks. While the direct effects of urban expansion on biodiversity has been studied extensively, the indirect effect have not. For example, researchers estimate that just the area required to feed the world’s cities is 36 times greater than the urban area of cities themselves. “In other words, the food urban dwellers eat turns out to be more important for global biodiversity than the direct environmental impact of the urban areas.”

Bee efficiency boosts diversified farming

Image of honey bee on pink flowers.

(Washington State University) The more diverse a farm’s plant population, the more beneficial it is for bee pollinators, and the more efficiently those pollinators work. “People want a silver bullet crop that they can plant that will bring in more pollinators, but that idea just wasn’t supported by our data. Having a variety, especially if they’re rare in a region, is the best way to increase pollinators… That means farmers can increase bee visits to their farm without adding more bees.”