Bumble Bees Suffer from Climate Change

It is December 24th and I am listening to spring peepers chirp on this extremely mild and wet day in the Hudson Valley! I am not sure if this is the earliest I’ve ever heard them or the latest, regardless I’m sure it is a rare event for the phenological records of the region. According to the calendar, winter is here but no significant cold air has yet settled in. It is an ideal day to contemplate climate change and mull over the events of the year.

Summit of Lyon Mountain
Summit of Lyon Mountain

This past summer while relaxing on the summit of 3,830 foot Lyon Mountain surrounded by boreal forests I recalled my hike up and seeing the jewelweed blooming in marshy areas and asters taking advantage of the filtered light that penetrated to the forest floor. These late season flowers were a delight to the bumble bees and other native bees busily at work pollinating. It seemed like any other perfectly ordinary day in the Adirondacks. In this remote area where the growing season is short, its easy to forget the impacts of climate change. I looked outward to a spectacular view of the valley below seeing a landscape dotted with windmills generating carbon-free electricity. The windmills slowly churn in the Champlain Valley, one carbon-free step towards reducing our societies voracious appetite for carbon generating energy. While basking in the sun, that tempered the chill of this late summer day, I was enjoying a tiny fraction of limitless energy that daily bombards the earth with enough volume to meet the world’s yearly power demand every hour. Yet, we continue to burn fossil fuels and spew carbon into our atmosphere and intentionally creating a more unstable weather pattern.

DSC_0049

According to recent climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the world average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces for the period of September to November 2015 was the highest ever recorded since record keeping began in 1880. The broader data suggests an overall trend towards warming temperatures worldwide with many species extending their ranges northward in an effort to adapt.

Green Sweat Bee on Aster
Green Sweat Bee on Aster

Some species of bumble bees, are the latest victims of climate change. According to a recent study conducted by Kerr et al, that was published in Science, The World’s Leading Journal of Original Scientific Research, their research suggests that bumblebees are disappearing from the southern portions of their range and are not expanding their ranges northward as other species are doing. The direct reasons are not clear. It may already be too late for a few species of bumble bees such as the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). Other species seem less affected, as least for now. At Lyon Mountain, in both natural and man-made openings in the forest canopy, wildflowers provide a pollinator paradise enjoyed by a variety of bumble bee species including two northern species, the tri-colored bumble bee (Bombus ternarius) and the northern amber bumble bee (Bombus borealis). Both species are locally common and currently seem unaffected by environmental issues afflicting some of their less fortunate counterparts. It is known that other bee species are able to shift their populations north in response to climate change.

Tri-colored Bumble Bee on Goldenrod
Tri-colored Bumble Bee on Goldenrod

The good news, that lends hope, is the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris, France from November 30th to December 12th reached a global agreement on the reduction of greenhouse emission. With numerous countries making pledges to take action the world is recognizing a problem and renewable energy is beginning to get traction. 2015 may turn out to be the warmest year globally since record keeping began and it may also be the turning point toward a more sustainable future. Perhaps, we will see more solar panels and windmills over the ensuing years and with it a recovery in bumble bee populations and other organisms currently struggling to adapt to a rapidly warming planet.

References:

  1. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/349/6244/177
  2. Climate Change is Shrinking Where Bumblebees Range, Research Finds.  St. Fleur, Nicholas.  New York Times. Science. July 9th, 2015.
Northern Amber Bumble bee on Aster
Northern Amber Bumble bee on Aster

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