Bees prefer biofuel crops

06 April 2011

New research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that mass flowering crops such as oilseed rape (Brassica napus) – increasingly popular as a biofuel crop – could be damaging native grassland species by poaching bees from them.

Researchers based in Germany studied the effect that fields of oilseed rape had on neighbouring wild grasslands in Lower Saxony, focusing on the effect that the crops had on native cowslip plants (Primula veris).  They found that bumblebees, the main pollinators of cowslip, visited the wild grasslands less frequently where they were situated near oilseed rape fields.  As a result, the bees pollinated fewer cowslip plants and there was a 20% reduction in the number of seeds produced by the native species.

Lead author Andrea Holzschuh concludes: “The current expansion of bee-attractive biofuel crops potentially threatens reproduction of concurrently flowering wild plants in conservation areas, because of an increased competition for pollinators between crops and wild plants, despite the fact that in the long run mass-flowering crops can enhance generalist pollinators and their pollination service“.