Scientists are blaming a familiar scourge for the problems currently faced by bumblebee populations.
Bumblebees in Europe and North America are being affected by climate change, and the situation continues to worsen. The bees are no longer migrating northwards, and are dying in large numbers in the hotter south.
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Bumblebees essential for agriculture
The insects are vital for pollinating crops, but populations are declining. Researchers in the U.S. and Canada claim that rising temperatures mean that bumblebees have lost 300 kilometers from the southern end of the range in which they can survive.
Habitat loss is a major threat to bees in Ireland, with humans held responsible. “About a third of all bee species are threatened with extinction here,” said Dr. Una FitzPatrick, an ecologist at the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
“We know they are in decline and why they are in decline and how to fix it. We need to provide them with habitat and food. They are looking for the same things we are, a home and a way to feed the family,” she said.
Food crops and wild plants are often incapable of pollinating themselves, and bees are essential for agriculture. “It is about the services they are providing, it is worth €53 million a year in services to agriculture,” Dr FitzPatrick said.
Behavior leaves bumblebees vulnerable to climate change
A study of bees in the northern hemisphere reveals just how much danger the insects are in. A team of researchers led by Jeremy Kerr from the University of Ottawa used historical data to examine the behavior of 67 bumblebee species in Europe and North America.
They concluded that the bees stopped moving northward as temperatures rose by 2.5 degrees from the year 1900 to 2010. Unfortunately this means that bees are not moving away from areas have become too hot for them, and the total distance over which they move, and can successfully live in, has been reduced.
Scientists do not understand why the bumblebees do not move further north, but the fact that they have not done so makes them more susceptible to climate change.
Bumblebees in Ireland are also moving, but towards the west, according to Dr FitzPatrick.