Bumblebees are going extinct in a time of ‘climate chaos’

Loss of the vital pollinators, due in part to temperature extremes and fluctuations, could have dire consequences for ecosystems and agriculture.


Bumblebees like this species (Bombus impatiens) are vital for their role as pollinators, but many species are imperiled by extreme heat and other factors.

Bumblebees, among the most important pollinators, are in trouble. Fuzzy and buzzy, they excel at spreading pollen and fertilizing many types of wild flora, as well as crucial agricultural crops like tomatoes, blueberries, and squash.

But their numbers are dropping. New research using a massive dataset found that the insects are far less common than they used to be; in North America, you are nearly 50 percent less likely to see a bumblebee in any given area than you were prior to 1974.

Moreover, several once-common species have disappeared from many areas they were once found, becoming locally extinct in those places. For example, the rusty patched bumblebee, which used to flourish in Ontario, is no longer found in all of Canada—in the U.S., it’s endangered.

In a new paper published this week in the journal Science, researchers used a complex modeling process to suggest that their decline is driven in large part by climate change.

Specifically, the scientists found that in areas that have become hotter in the last generation, or have experienced more extreme temperature swings, bumblebees are less abundant. In Europe, they are 17 percent less plentiful than they were in the early 20th century. The scientists examined the abundance of 66 species across the two continents.

The approach suggests “climate chaos” is a primary driver of the drop in bumblebees, says study leader Peter Soroye, a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa.

“These declines are linked to species being pushed beyond temperatures they haven’t previously...

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