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In South Florida, where the Everglades meet the bays, environmental challenges abound. Sea level rise threatens homes and real estate. Invasive species imperil native plants and animals. Pesticides reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases, but at what cost? WLRN's award-winning environment reporting strives to capture the color and complexity of human interaction with one of the most biodiverse areas of the planet.

When Flowers are Few, Wild Bees Rely on Nectar Alternative, Florida Researcher Finds

A native bee foraging on a moldy, nonflowering shrub.
A native bee foraging on a moldy, nonflowering shrub.

Bees often bring to mind images of large hives dripping with honey and buzzing with the common honey bee. But thousands of North American bee species live solitary lives gathering the nectar and pollen they need to survive. A new study by a University of Florida Ph.D. student found these lonely bees using innovative strategies to get the sugar they need when flowers are scarce.

Observing more than 40 wild bee species in California national park, Joan Meiners—a Ph.D. student at IFAS School of Natural Resources and Environment—found the wild bees turning to alternative fuel sources when they couldn't collect the nectar and pollen they need for energy and reproduction. 

That alternative fuel: honeydew, a sugar-rich secretion from tiny plant-eating insects that Meiners found the bees were eating as a stopgap measure to meet their energy needs. It's a strategy she says the bees may increasingly rely on in the face of climate change disrupting the rhythms of flowering and hibernation bees have evolved to follow.

Meiners joins Gulf Coast Live to talk about her research, how she came to understand why wild bees may come to use honeydew as food, and how disruptions to the bees natural rhythms may point to larger ecological stressors for the bees.

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