Date: January 17, 2017
Source: Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Farming doesn't always have to be harmful to bees. On the contrary, even though farmers on the Mexican peninsula of Yucatán traditionally slash-and-burn forest to create small fields, this practice can be beneficial to sweat bees by creating attractive habitats. The famers profit as well since they depend on these insects to pollinate their habanero chillies. This discovery by an international team of authors, headed by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), was recently published in the international "Journal of Applied Ecology."
Traditional farming practices on the Yucatán Peninsula originated with the region's native inhabitants, the Maya. Small parcels of forest are cut and burned, then the land planted with various crops. Afterwards the land lays fallow for a few years. This results in mosaic landscapes. The cleared land lies adjacent to forests, other fields that are currently being farmed and stretches of pasture land. "This diverse range of habitat provides excellent conditions for native sweat bees," explains Professor Robert Paxton from the Institute of Biology at MLU, where Paxton and PhD student Patricia Landaverde-González have studied 37 sites on Yucatán.
The researchers set out to discover how this type of traditional farming impacts biodiversity and bee populations. "One would assume that such a distructive type of farming would have negative consequences for the diversity of pollinator species -- particularly bees," explains Landaverde-González. Fewer bees mean that fewer plants can be pollinated, and around 70 per cent of all plants grown on the Yucatán Peninsula depend on pollination.