At present, there is substantive evidence that the nutritional content of agriculturally important food crops will decrease in response to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, Ca. However, whether Ca-induced declines in nutritional quality are also occurring for pollinator food sources is unknown. Flowering late in the season, goldenrod (Solidago spp.) pollen is a widely available autumnal food source commonly acknowledged by apiarists to be essential to native bee (e.g. Bombus spp.) and honeybee (Apis mellifera) health and winter survival. Using floral collections obtained from the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, we quantified Ca-induced temporal changes in pollen protein concentration of Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), the most widespread Solidago taxon, from hundreds of samples collected throughout the USA and southern Canada over the period 1842–2014 (i.e. a Ca from approx. 280 to 398 ppm). In addition, we conducted a 2 year in situ trial of S. canadensis populations grown along a continuous Ca gradient from approximately 280 to 500 ppm. The historical data indicated a strong significant correlation between recent increases in Ca and reductions in pollen protein concentration (r2 = 0.81). Experimental data confirmed this decrease in pollen protein concentration, and indicated that it would be ongoing as Ca continues to rise in the near term, i.e. to 500 ppm (r2 = 0.88). While additional data are needed to quantify the subsequent effects of reduced protein concentration for Canada goldenrod on bee health and population stability, these results are the first to indicate that increasing Ca can reduce protein content of a floral pollen source widely used by North American bees.
- Received February 23, 2016.
- Accepted March 22, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
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