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Climate change is threatening larger bees and global pollination

New research suggests that as our planet warms, larger bees such as the bumblebee will become less prominent. Scientists now warn of potential ‘cascading’ effects on plant pollination and entire ecosystems.

Climate change is ruining summers in more ways than one, according to new research.

A cohort of US scientists, who study the knock-on effects of global warming to our natural ecosystems, have determined that populations of large bees could drastically fall as temperatures rise.

‘Not the bees!’

The bigger species among them, like bumblebees, leafcutters, and mason bees, are responsible for maintaining nature’s order of plant pollination, and the report warns that dwindling numbers could cause ‘cascading’ effects to flora and fauna on a massive scale.

Published in a journal called Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the authors outlined how bees were studied in a captive environment over eight years. Some 20,000 bees of varying type and size were released into a sub-alpine region of the Rocky Mountains.

Researchers wanted to see how bees deal with changeable weather conditions, and thus picked an area ‘particularly vulnerable to climate change,’ with warming Spring temperatures and increasingly early snow melt.

After years of careful observation and research collation, the authors found that larger-bodied bees and comb-building nesters dropped in numbers as temperatures rose. At the same time, the population of smaller soil-nesting bees grew significantly.

Declines were most marked for bumblebees, confirming previous suggestions that they’ve a far lower heat tolerance than other bees. In the case of this controlled environment, bumblebees were actually declared as ‘threatened,’ suggesting they simply cannot thrive in a warming world.

Not only is this a saddening indictment on a morality front, but researchers believe losing bigger bees ‘could have cascading effects on pollination and ecosystem functioning.’ The larger bee tends to fly further for food, meaning longer-distance pollination will take a huge hit without them.

The role that organisms play in maintaining nature’s fragile balance really isn’t to be underestimated, and one in six bee species are thought to have gone regionally extinct in places across the globe already. It’s something of a vicious cycle too, considering the main driver of their extinction is habitat loss.

Back in 2019, a landmark report suggested that nearly half of the world’s insect species are declining and a third face the prospect of disappearing altogether by the end of this century.

It doesn’t bear thinking about the damage that will be wreaked upon our delicate ecosystems if warnings go unheeded and these predictions manifest for real.

Suffice to say, we need solutions now. Habitats must be restored and reforestation efforts will have to take into account nesting resources as temperatures rise.

 

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