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Self-Pollinating Wildflowers Worry Scientists

Global Brief

Self-Pollinating Wildflowers Worry Scientists

The global insect population is estimated to be declining at a rate of up to 2 percent per year due to a combination of climate change, habitat loss, pesticide use and human activity. That decline includes pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and wasps. Almost 90 percent of flowering plants depend entirely, or in part, on animal pollination.

According to a study published in the journal New Phytologist, researchers in France have found that wildflowers in a meadow near Paris have increasingly adapted to self-fertilization. They compared pansies grown from seeds harvested from 1992 to 2001 to pansies grown today, specifically examining their genetic and physical differences, and evaluating which pansies bumblebees preferred.

Finding that today’s pansies are smaller, make less nectar and are less attractive to bumblebees, the scientists concluded that the flowers had increased self-pollination by 27 percent. While this rapid adaptation may be a win for the flowers, it could exacerbate the decline in insects, which are a major food source for other animals and are integral to natural decomposition processes. The scientists believe there is an urgent need to further investigate this pattern and to evaluate the possibility of reversing the process.

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