What is it about?

Many crops depend on pollinators for seed production. Pollinators move pollen from flower to flower, plant to plant and between fields. When moving pollen, pollinators, often bees, also move the genes contained in the pollen. For example, bees can move genetically modified genes between crop fields or from a crop to populations of sexually compatible wild relatives via pollen. Our work aims at linking the foraging behavior of pollinators to the movement of pollen and genes (gene flow). We compare the behavior of three bee species and link their behaviors to their potential for gene flow.

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Why is it important?

In insect-pollinator crops, insects and mostly bees move pollen from flower to flower and are responsible for the ensuing movement of genes (gene flow). To understand how bees affect gene flow and why gene flow differs between bee species for a given crop, it is of prime importance to link their foraging behavior to their gene flow potential. This research aims at understanding how bee behavior at a local scale, bees foraging between flowers and plants, can translate into gene flow at the landscape level. Such understanding can identify the bee species with the least gene flow and suggest methods to manage pollinators to reduce gene flow.


The idea of linking bee behavior at a local scale to gene flow at the landscape level to better understand movement of genes among crop fields and from crop field to wild plant populations, was not well received by my agricultural colleagues when first proposed. However, evidence is accumulating to support this view, and this work was one of the first work published to link distinct bee foraging behaviors to gene flow using alfalfa as a model system. We are continuing to accumulate evidence and developing models that link various aspects of the foraging behavior of bees to gene flow for distinct bee species.

Johanne Brunet
USDA-Agricultural Research Service

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Linking the foraging behavior of three bee species to pollen dispersal and gene flow, PLoS ONE, February 2019, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212561.
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