Diet

Warming temperatures and altering climate result in the native extinction of necessary pollinators

Map of the climate-related change in bumblebee populations from the base period (1901-1974) to the most recent (2001-2014). Photo credit: Peter Soroye,
Tim Newbold, Jeremy Kerr

Bumblebees are important pollinators for many cultures that provide vitamins and nutrients in our diet, such as tomatoes, pumpkins, blueberries, strawberries and many others. Bumblebees are native bees that live in the soil and are sensitive to chemicals used in agriculture and different weather conditions. A recent study published in Science used a new modeling technique to show that current climate trends are accelerating the local extinction of bumblebees, which will reduce the availability of pollination services to farmers. Instead of just mapping changes in temperature and rainfall to predict bumblebee survival, the researchers also looked at the normal thermal range in which bumblebees can survive. When temperatures exceed the upper thermal limits of bumblebees, they predict local extinctions. When regions that were historically too cold for bumblebees become warmer, they predict that new populations will settle. Overall, however, the study shows that the current warming of our climate leads to a far greater local extinction than a new settlement. Using frequency data from 1901 to 2014, they estimated the bumblebee decline in rth America by 46% over the past 40 years.

Land use can also affect bumblebee survival, and it is still important to provide chemical-free nesting and food resources in rural and urban landscapes. Despite these efforts, this study also shows how important it is to slow global warming for the future survival of beneficial organisms such as native bees.

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