The Buzzkill of Climate Change

When most people think of bees, it is often accompanied by the thought of their taunting buzzing and hazardous stingers. However, the truth is that if you enjoy cucumbers, melons, oranges, apples, and of course, honey, as well as dozens of other fruits and vegetables, you rely on bees. In the United States, honey bees are responsible for 80% of commercial crops, contributing to pollinating many of the plants fed to cattle for the milk and meat industry as well. Essentially, bees are vital both for our needs and for the health of the environment. Yet, as climates rise, so does the fatality rate of the bee population.

How Does Climate Affect Bees? 

    As stated by the Smithsonian, something as colossal as climate change makes it difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the declining bee populations. However, it’s not a coincidence that bees have faced a 46% population decrease in North America and 17% in Europe from 1901 to 1974, mainly in areas with climates higher than average. Historically, bees have had a range of threats against them, including pesticides, habitat fragmentation, and human interference, with unfavorable temperatures just making it harder for bees to thrive. The main factors of climate change on these populations are a change in their phenology, loss of habitat, and disease.

Phenology

           – Phenology, the change in when something occurs, plays a role in bee populations because as temperatures begin to rise, snow melts faster, which brings the blossoming of flowers earlier than usual. However, conducted by Rebecca Irwin, an associate professor at Dartmouth College, it is unknown whether or not the bees are going to keep up with these changes. Plants and bees depend on each other, with plants needing bees to transfer pollen and bees needing plants to eat nectar. With climates changing so fast, plants will likely begin to bloom when bees are not active, trivializing both of them. 

Loss of Habitat

           –  Due to the fluctuating temperatures and changing phenology, bees are unable to adapt to warmer weather, making it difficult to find cooler homes. “They just aren’t colonizing new areas and establishing new populations fast enough to track rapid human-caused climate change,” remarked Jeremy Kerr, a professor at the University of Ottawa, theorizing that large changes in these populations are soon to come. Studies on bumblebee migrations show that in the north, bees struggle to make it to the North Pole, and in the Southern end, many end up dying. As a whole, bees have lost a range of almost 200 miles in North America and Europe. 

Disease 

             – Environmental stresses can make parasites even more accessible to honeybees, spreading deadly infections. Varroa mites and Nosema ceranae, since spreading around the US and Europe, have wiped out bee colonies and caused shorter lifespans. To link warmer climates and the spread of parasites, researchers made a model using information from a previous study of parasite infections. The model simulated how diseases would spread in different temperatures and, ultimately, the cold weather helped to block a widespread. 

Sources: 

Soroye, Peter, et al. “Climate Change Contributes to Widespread Declines among Bumble Bees across Continents.” Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 7 Feb. 2020, science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6478/685.

Worland, Justin. “Bees Habitat Loss: Study Shows How Climate Change Hurts Pollinators.” Time, Time, 9 July 2015, /time.com/3951339/bees-climate-change/. https://time.com/3951339/bees-climate-change/

Dattaro, Laura. “Here’s What Climate Change Could Do to Honey Bees.” VICE, 2 Dec. 2014, www.vice.com/en/article/gynewm/heres-what-climate-change-could-do-to-honey-bees.

Highcountrynews, director. Wild Science: Bees and Climate Change. YouTube, YouTube, 24 Aug. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qsoRkl6Njs.

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