There's an Invisible Force Killing Bees

July 10th 2015

Sarah Gray

A new study, published on Thursday in the journal Science, suggests that climate change is affecting bumblebee habitats by shrinking the areas that bumblebees can live.

The study, lead by Jeremy Kerr from the University of Ottawa in Canada, observed bees in North America and Europe from 1975 to 2010. They found that many of the 67 species of bees examined were retreating north -- the limits of their southern boundaries were moving upward, while their northern habitat boundaries remained static. Thus, climate change may “crush bumblebees in a kind of climate vice,” the study explains.

“Bumblebee species across Europe and North America are declining at continental scales," Kerr said, according to Nature. "Our data suggest that climate change plays a leading, or perhaps the leading, role in this trend."

Climate change is just one of many factors affecting bee populations -- from the bumblebee to the honeybee. "Previously, attention on bee declines has focused on habitat loss, pesticide use and the spread of bee parasites," Dave Goulson, a bee researcher at the University of Sussex, Brighton told Nature. "This study shows that a fourth factor — climate change — is also beginning to take its toll. It is likely that the combined stresses from all of these pressures will have devastating impacts on bumblebees in the not-too-distant future."

On Thursday -- unrelated to the release of Kerr's new study -- Kurz Gesagt's "In a Nutshell" released a video, titled "The Death of Bees," in conjunction with the Australian Academy of Science Nova Project. The video (below) focuses on several other factors that are hurting the honeybee -- including pesticides, mites and parasites, viruses and more.

The declining populations of the honeybee are very worrisome because honeybees are a major pollinator for many of the foods we eat. According to the White House, honeybees add "more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts, and vegetables," and the monetary number is much greater on a global scale. Without the honeybee, not only will our agricultural economy suffer, but plant populations may die out, followed by other populations that rely on eating those plants -- like animals and humans.

In May of this year, the Obama Administration announced a plan to "promote pollinator health," which includes three main goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.