NEWS Pollinator flowers

Video: Flower Power in the Adler Lab

“Flowers are a beacon that interact with so many different organisms in so many ways,” says Lynn Adler, professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “They’re colorful, they smell, they have nectar and pollen.”

They also play a varying set of roles in disease transmission, and for the past decade or so, Adler’s lab has focused on the role that specific flowers can play in transmitting pathogens to pollinators—especially bees—as well as how certain floral species seem to be a kind of “super food” that keep bees healthy.

The stakes are high: insect pollinators are annually responsible for ecosystem services estimated at well over $200 billion worldwide, but they also seem to be in a period of marked decline, which some have come to call the “insect apocalypse.” Much of this is due to monocultured crops, rampant pesticide use, and habitat loss due to development, but at least part of the answer to the problem of pollinator decline lies in effectively managing our landscape to maximize pollinator health.

Which brings us back to the power of flowers to keep those bees buzzing.

“Healthy bees means healthy ecosystems, diversity of food, balanced diets both for the bees and for us,” says Laura Figueroa, an ecologist and NSF postdoctoral researcher working in the Adler lab.