Climate change killing off bumblebees by waking them up early from hibernation, study warns

Early onset of spring affects ability of the bees to find food sources, scientists say

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 31 August 2022 03:15 BST
30% Of Our Food Is At Risk Because Of Climate Change

The early arrival of spring in many parts of North America is negatively impacting bumblebee survival, according to a new study that says agricultural crops and other bee-pollinated plants may also be affected.

Scientists, including those from the University of Ottawa in Canada, point to a trend of earlier spring onset and flowering in many parts of the US and Canada, including spring plants, wild plants, and trees, caused by climate change.

In the research, published recently in the science journal Biological Conservation, they examined a database of specimen from museum collections across North America, comprising 21 bumblebee species and 17,000 individuals.

The study found that the bees are not correspondingly shifting their activity timing earlier in the year.

Climate change strongly explained variation in spring emergence timing in 15 of the 21 bumblebee species, researchers said.

They warned that this threatens the ability of the bees to find food sources, and may cause them to starve.

Flowers, pollen, and nectar are necessary food for winter-hibernating bumblebee queens that search for these resources after waking up hungry in need of energy.

Scientists say the ability to match the timing of floral resources gives bumblebee species an edge.

Those bees that sync with the changing timing of spring take full advantage of the season’s floral resources and are more likely to persist over time.

However, for those emerging from hibernation before the arrival of spring flowers, this survival edge is unlikely, leading to smaller colonies with lower odds of persisting in that area the following year, the study explains.

This way, the climate change-driven season alterations cause bumblebee colonies to be at odds with each other, scientists say.

“This research has demonstrated that bumblebee emergence timing can be biased heavily in the direction of climate changes, which has implications for similar research on other species, as well as for the urgent conservation of these valuable pollinator species,” said Olga Koppel, a co-author of the study and PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa.

“This study provides a roadmap for evaluating large-scale temporal responses to climate change for many insects and other animals,” Ms Koppel added.

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