Several bumblebee species in big trouble, U.S. study finds
January 4th, 2011
10:02 PM ET

Several bumblebee species in big trouble, U.S. study finds

Four U.S. species of bumblebees - an insect that plays an important role in crop pollination - have suffered a sharp decline in abundance and geographic range over the past few decades, a study says.

Their relative abundance, depending on the species, declined 88% to 96% in the last 20 to 30 years, and their geographic ranges have shrunk by 23% to 87%, according to the study led by University of Illinois entomology professor Sydney Cameron.

Though direct causes haven’t been confirmed, the study’s authors said declining bumblebee species are more likely than stable species to be infected with a certain parasite and are more likely to have lower genetic diversity.

The authors studied eight of North America’s 50 bumblebee species, and of those eight, "four ... are significantly in trouble," Cameron said in a University of Illinois press release. The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"They could potentially recover; some of them might. But we only studied eight. This could be the tip of the iceberg," Cameron said.

Populations of some bumblebee and honeybee species have reported to be on the decline in North America and elsewhere for years, but until now, no evidence for large-scale range reductions of bumblebees had been collected, the authors wrote.

"The wide-scale reductions in range and abundance of North American species, which also confirm earlier studies of decline at local levels, are striking and cause for concern," the authors wrote.

The researchers counted bumblebees of eight species at 382 U.S. sites from 2007 to 2009 and compared the count to historical data that was collected from 1900 to 1999 and held by natural history museums across the country.

One species that was once found throughout the eastern United States and northern Midwest saw its geographic range reduced by 87%, according to the study. One species with a historically broad presence in the West "was largely absent from the western portion of its range," and another historically wide-ranging species, while still abundant in the Gulf states and in the western Midwest, was "not observed across most of its historical northern and eastern range."

The declining species were more likely than the stable ones to be infected with the Nosema bombi parasite, which is known to afflict some bumblebee species in Europe, the news release said.

"But confirming a direct link between N. bombi and North American (bumblebee) decline will require further research," the authors wrote in the study.

Scientists previously have hypothesized that parasites, viruses, climate change and habitat loss could contribute to bumblebee decline.

Bumblebees' pollination style make them among the most efficient pollinators of certain crops, such as cranberries, blueberries and tomatoes. In Europe particularly, billions of dollars are invested in greenhouse bumblebee pollination of certain crops, especially tomatoes, Cameron said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Bumblebees also are important pollinators for wild plants in temerpate zones, particularly in mountainous areas, "because they can fly in lower temperatures when other bees can't fly - particularly in the early spring, the bumblebees are going to be the only bees that can fly that early," Cameron said.

Other causes aside, Cameron said loss and destruction of natural habitat such as prairies and forests "clearly is going to have an impact on all species of bees. She said the planting of more native flowers and shrubs, including on plots a small distance from crops, would be helpful to bees.

The research was published two weeks after a separate study proposed that viruses possibly causing the collapse of U.S. honeybee populations might be spreading from hive to hive through pollen, as reported by National Geographic.

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Filed under: Environment • Nature
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. RUFFNUTT

    all the regular bees are leaving cause the african bee's are taking over.

    January 4, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Bumble bees are from Africa! I love bumble bees...very smart insects.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
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      January 5, 2011 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  2. Badmammajamma

    @ ruffnutt what you talkn bout Willis?

    January 4, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RUFFNUTT

    africanized bees are still making there way north.. there more agressive than normal bees and aborb them.

    bee's are real important tho.. we need them

    January 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Stop picking on the bumble bees ueffenutt! By the way, I saw a black camero today and I believe it was a '82. Was that you raging down the road with a batman sticker on the bumper. You did'in tell us you have thing for batman...

      January 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      ...or maybe it just means you're batty...LOL

      January 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. james allison

    Well what do bees eat all winter honey wow we eat honey to hmm. It just might be were eating all the food they make for thier own survival. guess what the bees go we are dead we cant pollonate the plants like bees can

    January 4, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. banasy

    The African bees ARE starting to take hold in the Unites States, and they are much, much more aggressive than their European counterparts.

    That being said, I think it's sad that "progress" has made such a horrendous impact on nature, but really, it's always been that way. The more we build, the more nature goes awry, whether it bumblebees facing extinction or bears roaming around in the backyards of a NJ suburb, we're encroaching upon nature waaaaay too much!

    January 4, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Its the genetically modified plants doing them in

      January 4, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Phil

    Some reporter must be new and is getting his or her bees mixed-up!

    January 5, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  7. Cesar

    Hello Phil: I'll Beeee back.

    January 5, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  8. tomcat

    Hey Phil...Cesar

    January 5, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. Future Reporter

    This is CNN's version of "the birds and the bees" this week

    January 5, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  10. Name*Julie

    You are in living in a time where not just the bees but the fish and birds are being affected and also earthquakes in places around the globe that are unheard of.If you read the bible God tells you about the end of days. You may not believe it but it is true. This is no mistake this is the beginning of the end of time.

    January 5, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Captain_Colossal

      make absolutely no mistake you are a moron. where was jesus and/or at the turn of the millennium ? ?
      keep pushing the date back, wacko.

      January 5, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
    • meds

      dude stuff like this has been going since the beginning of time. freak occurrences, species dying off and being replaced...etc. the reality is the world is in a constant state of flux. destruction and renewal. If the bird thing had happened on any other day in any other country no one would have noticed. But I assure the time is now for us 2 make changes and help thee world heal. God does not want u sittin at home crying and praying waiting for him to "come back" and make things better. God never left ..God's in all of us. Use that power.

      January 5, 2011 at 3:43 am | Report abuse |
    • KyleXR8

      Earthquakes can, and do, happen anywhere dude. Me thinks you need to take a Geology 101 class.

      January 5, 2011 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. Cesar

    Gd Nt Tomcat, enjoy the wonderful Austin air.

    January 5, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  12. turtle

    Bumblebees & Honeybees are like apples & oranges- totally different, the agressive Africanized honeybees r taking over much of the No.American honeybee territory; but that's another subject- B careful 2 realize the significance of this study & its outreach realization how the 'small stuff' plays a specialized & vital role in the worldwide scope of simple everyday facts generating the earths internal whole world truths of survival- Love the planet ur on? well how 'bout TRULY doing the right stuff; start simple even-TODAY- recycle, get ur emissions fixed on ur car, plant a garden, DO SOMETHING GOOD FOR SOMEONE U DON'T KNOW- Anything will make a difference...

    January 5, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ahmed

    Megatron has a hand in this.

    January 5, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
  14. hands r tied

    Bumblebees are chasing after Jesus..end of days..really. Why is it whenever some oddity of news flashes its attributed to the end of life?

    January 5, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
  15. Debbie2008

    I'm surprised the author doesn't raise the possibility of pesticides as a factor in decline bee populations.

    from a recently leaked EPA memo regarding bees affected by pesticide:

    Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a
    neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey
    bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED
    does not conduct RQ based risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard
    tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides
    (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other
    beneficial insects. An incident in Germany already illustrated the toxicity of clothianidin to
    honeybees when allowed to drift off-site from treated seed during planting.

    January 5, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
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