Rapid decline in bumblebee species caused by climate change, study finds

Posted on Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bumblebee on a purple flower

OTTAWA, July 9, 2015 – In the most comprehensive analysis of the impact of climate change on critical pollinators, researchers have found that rapid declines in bumblebee species across North America and Europe are strongly linked to climate change. The study was published in Science.

“Pollinators are vital for food security and our economy, and widespread losses of pollinators due to climate change will diminish both,” states Jeremy Kerr, lead researcher and professor at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Biology. “We need to figure out how we can improve the outlook for pollinators on continental scales. But the most important thing we can do is begin to take serious action to reduce the rate of climate change.”

Although previous smaller-scale studies on other species have shown that species expand to the North Pole as the climate warms, these new findings show that bumblebee species are not relocating. Instead, they’re losing range from the south, disappearing over huge areas with the rapid warming on continental scales.

This is the first cross-continental analysis to study how a large group of pollinators responds to climate change. The study has also discovered a new biological mechanism that explains how species may respond to climate change based on their evolutionary past.

“We’ve lost about 300 km from the ranges of bumblebees in southern Europe and North America. The scale and pace of these losses are unprecedented. We need new strategies to help these species cope with the effects of human-caused climate change, perhaps assisting them to shift into northern areas," urges Professor Kerr.

The study used long-term observations collected over a period of 110 years across Europe and North America, with a database of approximately 423,000 geo-referenced observations for 67 bumblebee species. The observations tested for latitudinal and thermal limits and movements along elevation gradients. 

Back to top