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Study: More Frequent Droughts Threaten Bee Populations

April 13 (UPI) -- As the planet warms and droughts grow longer and more frequent, as predicted by climate scientists, bees are likely to find fewer flowers to get nectar.

When researchers at the University of Exeter and the University of Manchester analyzed the impact of droughts on flower blooms, they found drought conditions halved the number of flowers available to pollinators. 

"The plants we examined responded to drought in various ways, from producing fewer flowers to producing flowers that contained no nectar," Exeter ecologist Ben Phillips said in a news release. "But overall there was a very clear reduction in the number of flowers that were available -- and obviously this means less food for flower-visiting insects such as bees."

As a wealth of research has shown, bees are facing a deadly combination of threats, including exposure to pesticides, invasive species and disease.

Bees provide essential ecological services, including the pollination of crops and native plants. They also provide food for a variety of birds and mammals.

Scientists tracked three flower varieties in a meadow -- vetchling, common sainfoin and selfheal. The team of researchers used transparent rain shields to replicate severe drought conditions.

"The level of drought that we looked at was calculated to be a rare event, but with climate change such droughts are expected to become much more common," said lead researcher Ellen Fry, an ecologist at the University of Manchester.

One recent study found climate change could leave as much as a quarter of the planet's landmass in permanent drought.

While the most recent experiment was conducted on chalk grasslands, an ecosystem found in Europe, researchers believe their findings -- published Friday in the journal Global Change Biology -- are broadly applicable.

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