An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, led by Lynn Adler, professor of biology, has been awarded $2.4 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to trace how food affects the ability of pathogens to attack plant pollinators.
An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, led by Lynn Adler, professor of biology, has been awarded $2.4 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to trace how food affects the ability of pathogens to attack plant pollinators. The research will be the first conducted across a wide range of scales, from the molecular to the community-wide, and has immediate implications for ecosystems, including agricultural efforts, worldwide.
One of the biggest challenges in biology today is to understand and manage how pathogens travel and proliferate. One place of special concern is the way that pathogens have affected, and are devastating, plant pollinators—think of bees, for instance, which have faced waves of die-offs over the past decade, in part due to specific pathogens, including Crithidia bombi. Since insect pollinators are annually responsible for ecosystem services estimated at well over $200 billion worldwide, their decline has raised serious concern, leading some to call the situation the “insect apocalypse.”
Yet, biologists don’t have a clear understanding of what role plants play in the pathogen-pollinators interaction, nor is it entirely known what role the quantity and quality of food available to the pollinators may play in the pollinators’ ability to withstand disease. While flowers provide essential food for pollinators, biologists often don’t consider how they can also be sites where diseases are transmitted, as well as how nectar and pollen themselves may help pollinators fight off disease.
“Our ultimate goal with this grant,” says Adler, “is to figure out what sort of plant composition, available as food sources for the pollinators, reduces infection?”
Read more at University of Massachusetts Amherst
Image: Sunflower pollen seems to be a super-food for pollinators. But why? (Credit: Justin Roch)