Winters are getting warmer, the oceans are rising, and now, bumblebees are dying, according to a new study that found that climate change is causing one of the world's most efficient pollinators to be on the brink of mass extinction.
By studying 66 bumblebee species in North America and Europe, researchers from the University of Ottawa found that increasing temperatures and precipitation are also increasing the species' risk of extinction. The likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a single location has declined by an average of 30% within one human generation, the researchers said.
Peter Soroye, a Ph.D. student at Ottawa and one of the study's authors, tweeted about the research, saying "in 25 years, the likelihood of finding a bee species declined on average by 46% in North America & 17% in Europe."
The team also found that climate change impacts the chances of bees colonizing new areas. They discovered that the largest bumblebee population declines occurred in places where "climate change was pushing species past what they ever had to tolerate before." These areas are represented in dark red spots on a data map, which does not include population data based on habitat loss and pesticides.
The decline of bumblebee populations could also spell trouble for agriculture. Bumblebees are vital to the world's ecosystem and are known for pollinating wildflowers and "nightshade" produce such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and blueberries, according to the Honeybee Conservancy. They are able to tolerate cooler weather that other crucial pollinators, like honey bees, cannot effectively withstand. Other research has found that the bees are essential in supporting seeds and berries that other animals need in their diets.
Despite the grim findings, Soroye said that their research, which was published in the journal Science, can help plan for a better future for various species.
"We've seen a lot of places where things are going badly, but we've also seen some "bright spots", where things are going well in spite of climate change. By focusing in on these places, maybe we can learn lessons that could be applied to stop declines elsewhere," he wrote. "...to paraphrase auntie Michelle, 'when climate change goes low, we go high!'"
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