Rumble in the bumble jungle: climate change killing off bees

10 Jul 2015

Global warming is having a disastrous effect on bumblebees, with climate change seeing numbers dramatically reduce across the world.

In a major study – published in Science – that looked at over 420,000 records of different bumblebee species over the past 110 years in both North America and Europe, researchers found that rising temperatures are too much for the little creatures to handle.

For many other species, like butterflies for example, changing temperatures see a shift in location, as they respond to the environment around them.

Bumblebees, though, are not so adventurous. They are getting squeezed from the equator in the south, and failing to move further north to avail of the better temperatures.

Get a move on!

This came as a “surprise” to the 14 researchers, including Leif Richardson, a scientist at the University of Vermont.

“The bees are losing range on their southern margin and failing to pick up territory at the northern margin – so their habitat range is shrinking,” he says.

‘If we don’t stop the decline in the abundance of bumblebees, we may well face higher food prices, diminished varieties, and other troubles’

It’s getting so bad, in fact, that the solution proposed by the team is to manually assist in the migration of bumblebees, a topic that was previously deemed controversial but now, as the planet’s species continue to struggle with global warming, is becoming more appealing.

“We need new strategies to help these species cope with the effects of human-caused climate change, perhaps assisting them to shift into northern areas,” said Jeremy Kerr, a biologist from the University of Ottawa, who led the new study.

Engineering a solution

Other strategies, however, include novel man-made aids for bumblebees, like Norway’s ingenious bee “highway”, dedicated solely to the striped little guys.

It’s basically a network of nectar-hosting flowers planted by enthusiasts along cemeteries, rooftop gardens and balconies throughout Oslo.

“We are constantly reshaping our environment to meet our needs, forgetting that other species also live in it,” said Agnes Lyche Melvaer, head of the Bybi, an environmental group leading the project. “To correct that we need to return places to them to live and feed.”

Monarch butterfly bumblebees

There’s actually a similar “butterfly highway” project in the US, with plans to establish a 1,500-mile corridor of vegetation between Mexico and Minnesota for the creatures.

That’s because the bee problem at the moment is not an isolated problem, with the world slowly catching on to the idea that protecting species that provide for us is a major issue.

“Bumblebees pollinate many plants that provide food for humans and wildlife,” says Richardson. “If we don’t stop the decline in the abundance of bumblebees, we may well face higher food prices, diminished varieties, and other troubles.”

Here’s a fine, short video explaining the plight of the bee:

Main bee image and monarch butterfly image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic