2023 journal article

Sunflower plantings reduce a common gut pathogen and increase queen production in common eastern bumblebee colonies

By: R. Malfi*, Q. McFrederick *, G. Lozano*, R. Irwin n & L. Adler *

co-author countries: United States of America πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
author keywords: agroecosystem; Bombus impatiens; Crithidia bombi; Helianthus annuus; pollinator health; sunflower
MeSH headings : Bees; Animals; Helianthus; Flowers; Pollen; Plants; Crithidia
Source: Web Of Science
Added: May 9, 2023

Community diversity can reduce the prevalence and spread of disease, but certain species may play a disproportionate role in diluting or amplifying pathogens. Flowers act as both sources of nutrition and sites of pathogen transmission, but the effects of specific plant species in shaping bee disease dynamics are not well understood. We evaluated whether plantings of sunflower (Helianthus annuus), whose pollen reduces infection by some pathogens when fed to bees in captivity, lowered pathogen levels and increased reproduction in free-foraging bumblebee colonies (Bombus impatiens). Sunflower abundance reduced the prevalence of a common gut pathogen, Crithidia bombi, and reduced infection intensity, with an order of magnitude lower infection intensity at high sunflower sites compared with sites with little to no sunflower. Sunflower abundance was also positively associated with greater queen production in colonies. Sunflower did not affect prevalence of other detected pathogens. This work demonstrates that a single plant species can drive disease dynamics in foraging B. impatiens, and that sunflower plantings can be used as a tool for mitigating a prevalent pathogen while also increasing reproduction of an agriculturally important bee species.