Nav: Home

Why bumble bees are going extinct in time of 'climate chaos'

February 06, 2020

When you were young, were you the type of child who would scour open fields looking for bumble bees? Today, it is much harder for kids to spot them, since bumble bees are drastically declining in North America and in Europe.

A new study from the University of Ottawa found that in the course of a single human generation, the likelihood of a bumble bee population surviving in a given place has declined by an average of over 30%.

Peter Soroye, a PhD student in the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa, Jeremy Kerr, professor at the University of Ottawa and head of the lab group Peter is in, along with Tim Newbold, research fellow at UCL (University College London), linked the alarming idea of ''climate chaos'' to extinctions, and showed that those extinctions began decades ago.

"We've known for a while that climate change is related to the growing extinction risk that animals are facing around the world," first author Peter Soroye explained. "In this paper, we offer an answer to the critical questions of how and why that is. We find that species extinctions across two continents are caused by hotter and more frequent extremes in temperatures."

"We have now entered the world's sixth mass extinction event, the biggest and most rapid global biodiversity crisis since a meteor ended the age of the dinosaurs." - Peter Soroye

Massive decline of the most important pollinators on Earth

"Bumble bees are the best pollinators we have in wild landscapes and the most effective pollinators for crops like tomato, squash, and berries," Peter Soroye observed. "Our results show that we face a future with many less bumble bees and much less diversity, both in the outdoors and on our plates."

The researchers discovered that bumble bees are disappearing at rates "consistent with a mass extinction."

"If declines continue at this pace, many of these species could vanish forever within a few decades," Peter Soroye warned.

The technique

"We know that this crisis is entirely driven by human activities," Peter Soroye said. "So, to stop this, we needed to develop tools that tell us where and why these extinctions will occur."

The researchers looked at climate change and how it increases the frequency of really extreme events like heatwaves and droughts, creating a sort of "climate chaos" which can be dangerous for animals. Knowing that species all have different tolerances for temperature (what's too hot for some might not be for others), they developed a new measurement of temperature.

"We have created a new way to predict local extinctions that tells us, for each species individually, whether climate change is creating temperatures that exceed what the bumble bees can handle," Dr. Tim Newbold explained.

Using data on 66 different bumble bee species across North America and Europe that have been collected over a 115-year period (1900-2015) to test their hypothesis and new technique, the researchers were able to see how bumble bee populations have changed by comparing where bees are now to where they used to be historically.

"We found that populations were disappearing in areas where the temperatures had gotten hotter," Peter Soroye said. "Using our new measurement of climate change, we were able to predict changes both for individual species and for whole communities of bumble bees with a surprisingly high accuracy."

A new horizon of research

This study doesn't end here. In fact, it opens the doors to new research horizons to track extinction levels for other species like reptiles, birds and mammals.

"Perhaps the most exciting element is that we developed a method to predict extinction risk that works very well for bumble bees and could in theory be applied universally to other organisms," Peter Soroye indicated. "With a predictive tool like this, we hope to identify areas where conservation actions would be critical to stopping declines."

"Predicting why bumble bees and other species are going extinct in a time of rapid, human-caused climate change could help us prevent extinction in the 21st century." - Dr. Jeremy Kerr

There is still time to act

"This work also holds out hope by implying ways that we might take the sting out of climate change for these and other organisms by maintaining habitats that offer shelter, like trees, shrubs, or slopes, that could let bumble bees get out of the heat," Dr. Kerr said. "Ultimately, we must address climate change itself and every action we take to reduce emissions will help. The sooner the better. It is in all our interests to do so, as well as in the interests of the species with whom we share the world."
-end-
The paper Climate change contributes to widespread declines among bumble bees across continents is published in Science.

Funding: J.K. is grateful for Discovery Grant and Discovery Accelerator Supplement from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and funds from his University Research Chair in Macroecology and Conservation at the University of Ottawa. J.K. is also supported through infrastructure funds from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This collaboration was funded by a Royal Society grant to T.N. and J.K. and an NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship award to P.S. to work with J.K. T.N. was supported by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship and a grant from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NE/R010811/1).

University of Ottawa

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.
Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.