Although global warming is usually reported in terms of average degrees per year, climatologists say that’s not how it’s actually experienced. (Black Press Media file photos)

Research shows climate change silencing spots once buzzing with bees

Bees have faced a series of threats for years, including habitat loss, parasites and pesticide use

Research measuring the effort of climate change on bees suggests they are only half as likely to be found in areas where they were once common.

“Things are just getting way too hot for them in a lot of places, too frequently in the year,” said Peter Soroye, a biologist at the University of Ottawa.

Bees are crucial to agriculture. The United Nations says about one-third of the world’s crops depend on pollinators.

Bees have faced a series of threats for years, including habitat loss, parasites and pesticide use. One 2011 study found that wild bumblebee species had declined by up to 96 per cent and their ranges had contracted by at least one-quarter.

Climate change is also a factor. Soroye and his colleagues, whose research was published Thursday in the journal Science, wanted to tease out its part in the bees’ decline.

Although global warming is usually reported in terms of average degrees per year, climatologists say that’s not how it’s actually experienced. What usually happens is a period of extreme weather.

That’s what hurts the bees, Soroye said.

“Temperatures getting a little hotter every year, most species can probably tolerate that,” he said. ”But when you get a week of 40-plus (Celsius) temperatures, this is something that’s really difficult for bumblebees to tolerate.”

Using almost a century’s worth of records and data on 66 bumblebee species from more than half a million locations, the researchers showed a clear correlation — separate from land use or pesticides — between bee population surveys and weather that exceeded their tolerance.

They found a powerful link between population decline and what the paper calls “climate chaos.”

ALSO READ: UBC study shows honey bees can help monitor pollution in cities

“Eureka moments don’t usually happen,” said co-author Jeremy Kerr, a University of Ottawa professor. ”Usually you see something in your data and you squint a little bit and then you say, ‘That’s strange.’ But this time, everything you could think of totally worked.”

The paper concludes that climate change in North America has resulted in a 50-50 chance that a meadow or a vacant lot that was loud with bees just a generation or two ago still has them. The paper also says their risk of extinction has increased.

Not all changes are losses. Soroye said some areas benefited from the warmer weather and increased their bee numbers.

But the overall trend was down, he said.

Kerr said correlating populations with weather data could be useful to help understand the declining numbers of many other species, especially birds for which long records are available.

“The premise is intended to be transferable. We didn’t build the premise for bumblebees. We built it for any kind of species.”

Not all animals are necessarily in decline from climate change. Butterflies, for example, might not be bothered by hot spells.

“They originated in tropical conditions and they may have greater capacity to tolerate hot weather,” Kerr said.

But the reason for any changes would remain the same — climate.

“These principles are applicable everywhere,” Soroye said. ”We have yet to test that, but that’s what we think.”

Kerr said the study has the added benefit of being immediately useful to beekeepers or wildlife managers.

“If we can manage our habitats to maintain things like microclimates, little habitat buffers like a hedgerow, it has the same effect as putting a shade tree in your backyard on a hot day,” he said. ”You can go sit in the shade and so can a bumblebee.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Climate changeNature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mainly sunny Saturday, but cloudy weather in the forecast

Environment Canada weather report for the week of Feb. 24

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

Vanderhoof wrestler wins gold in provincials

Rayen Rempel won gold in the 41-kg category at the BC Wrestling Provincials held in Langley.

Man, 40, killed in hit and run in Fort St. James

One person is dead in a hit and run case that is… Continue reading

MLA says government support for forest industry is lacking

Budget also affects natural gas consumers in the region

HIGHLIGHTS: Day one and two at the 2020 BC Winter Games

Athletes had sunny – but cold – weather to work with in Fort St. John

Tyler Toffoli scores twice, Canucks crush Bruins 9-3

Stecher, Miller each add three points for Vancouver

Zamboni driver, 42, earns NHL win over Maple Leafs

Emergency goalie called into action for Carolina Hurricanes

Governor general says multiple solutions needed for ‘complicated’ overdose issue

Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as politicians and health experts

Landlord ordered to pay $11K after harassing B.C. mom to move days after giving birth

Germaine Valdez was pressured to move just a few days after giving birth by C-section to her child

Feds should have extended EI, says displaced forestry worker

Only 11 workers in the district have been placed into other jobs via forestry placement office.

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

Most Read