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Global declines in pollinators, including bees, can have major consequences for ecosystem services. Bees are dominant pollinators, making it imperative to mitigate declines. Pathogens are strongly implicated in the decline of native and honey bees. Diet affects bee immune responses, suggesting the potential for floral resources to provide natural resistance to pathogens. We discovered that sunflower (Helianthus annuus) pollen dramatically and consistently reduced a protozoan pathogen (Crithidia bombi) infection in bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) and also reduced a microsporidian pathogen (Nosema ceranae) of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), indicating the potential for broad anti-parasitic effects. In a field survey, bumble bees from farms with more sunflower area had lower Crithidia infection rates. Given consistent effects of sunflower in reducing pathogens, planting sunflower in agroecosystems and native habitat may provide a simple solution to reduce disease and improve the health of economically and ecologically important pollinators.
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Giacomini, Jonathan J.; Leslie, Jessica; Tarpy, David R.; Palmer-Young, Evan C.; Irwin, Rebecca E.; and Adler, Lynn S., "Medicinal value of sunflower pollen against bee pathogens" (2018). SCIENTIFIC REPORTS. 629.