Wild bees are more at risk from climate change

Wild bees are more at risk from climate change
January 13, (Agencies) | Publish Date: 1/13/2021 10:22:18 AM IST

 Wild bees are under greater threat from climate change than they are from destruction of habitats around the world, according to the authors of the new report. Experts from Penn State University studied 14 years of data from wild bee populations in over 1,000 locations in Maryland, Delaware and Washington DC.

They found that warm winters and long hot summers are reducing the abundance and diversity of plants and flowers - putting ecosystems at risk and making it harder for wild bees - already being wiped out due to pesticides and disease - to survive. 

Lead author Professor Christina Grozinger said the most critical factor influencing wild bees was the weather - particularly changes to temperature and rainfall. Combating insensitive urban development and intensive farming alone will not be sufficient to protect the vital pollinators, explained Grozinger. In the Northern US, past trends and future predictions show a changing climate with warmer winters, more intense rain in winter and longer growing seasons with higher maximum temperatures, according to Grozinger. 

Co-author Melanie Kammerer, a graduate student, said few previous studies have considered the effects of both climate and land use on wild bee populations. To properly understand the effects of weather and climate - especially with more variable patterns due to climate change - they needed a long-term data set. They examined data from observations of bees in over 1,000 locations over 14 years and looked at both land use and climate change at the same time.   

Using maps and spatial models, the team described the landscape surrounding each of the sampling spots - like habitat size and available floral and nesting resources. They also compiled a large set of climate variables and used machine-learning, or AI, to identify the most important and quantify their effects on bees.

Declines in recent months to honey bee numbers and health caused global concern due to the insects’ critical role as a major pollinator. Bee health has been closely watched in recent years as nutritional sources available to honey bees have declined and contamination from pesticides has increased. In animal model studies, the researchers found that combined exposure to pesticide and poor nutrition decreased bee health. Bees use sugar to fuel flights and work inside the nest, but pesticides decrease their hemolymph (‘bee blood’) sugar levels and therefore cut their energy stores. When pesticides are combined with limited food supplies, bees lack the energy to function, causing survival rates to plummet. 

Interestingly, different species were most affected by different weather conditions - for example areas with more rain had fewer spring bees. 

The study is part of ‘Beescape’ enabling growers, conservationists and gardeners to explore the landscape quality at their site and make adjustments to improve conditions for bees.

Given their latest findings, the researchers plan to expand the project to include weather and climate conditions in future observations. The findings have been published in the journal Global Change Biology. 

(Ryan Morrison for Mailonline)

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