US sees massive drop in bumble bees: study (Update)

Jan 03, 2011
A bumble bee collects pollen on flowers in Washington, DC. Weakened by inbreeding and disease, bumble bees have died off at an astonishing rate over the past 20 years, with some US populations diving more than 90 percent, according to a new study.

Weakened by inbreeding and disease, bumble bees have died off at an astonishing rate over the past 20 years, with some US populations diving more than 90 percent, according to a new study.

The findings are of concern because bees play a crucial role in pollinating crops such as tomatoes, peppers and berries, said the findings of a three-year study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Similar declines have also been seen in Europe and Asia, said Sydney Cameron, of the Department of Entomology and Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, the main author of the study.

"The decline of bumble bees in the US is associated with two things we were able to study: the pathogen Nosema bombi and a decline in genetic diversity. But we are not saying Nosema is the cause. We don't know," said Cameron.

"It's just an association. There may be other causes."

Fact file on bumble bees. US populations of the species have dropped more than 90 percent in 20 years, according to a new study.

He added that the decline is "huge and recent," having taken place in the last two decades.

Nosema bombi is a bee pathogen that has also afflicted European bumble bees.

Researchers examined eight species of North American bumble bees and found that the "relative abundance of four species has dropped by more than 90 percent, suggesting die-offs further supported by shrinking geographic ranges," said the study.

"Compared with species of relatively stable population sizes, the dwindling bee species had low genetic diversity, potentially rendering them prone to pathogens and environmental pressures."

Their cousins, the honey bees, have also experienced catastrophic die-offs since 2006 in a phenomenon known as "colony collapse disorder," though the causes have yet to be fully determined.

Bees play a crucial role in pollinating crops such as tomatoes, peppers and berries and their decline would have a serious impact on agriculture. Some US populations have declined by 90 percent.

Bumble bees also make honey, but it is used to feed the colony, not farmed for human consumption.

They are however raised in Europe for pollinating greenhouse vegetables in a multi-billion-dollar industry that has more recently taken off in Japan and Israel and is being developed in Mexico and China, Cameron said.

"We need to start to develop other bees for pollination beside honey bees, because they are suffering enormously," he added.

There are around 250 species of bumble bee, including 50 in the United States alone.

Explore further: Aging white lion euthanized at Ohio zoo

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bee species outnumber mammals and birds combined

Jun 11, 2008

Scientists have discovered that there are more bee species than previously thought. In the first global accounting of bee species in over a hundred years, John S. Ascher, a research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate ...

Franklin's bumble bee may be extinct

May 26, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, just returned from a scientific trip to southern Oregon and Northern California ...

Bee-killing parasite genome sequenced

Jun 05, 2009

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have sequenced the genome of a parasite that can kill honey bees. Nosema ceranae is one of many pathogens suspected of contributing to the current bee population decline, termed ...

Bumble bee visits a fritillary

Jun 25, 2010

Bumble bees can see which fritillary has the most nectar. Pollination by the bees protects plants against moulds.

Recommended for you

Ninety-eight new beetle species discovered in Indonesia

5 hours ago

Ninety-eight new species of the beetle genus Trigonopterus have been described from Java, Bali and other Indonesian islands. Museum scientists from Germany and their local counterparts used an innovative approa ...

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

Dec 19, 2014

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

User comments : 16

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

stealthc
3.5 / 5 (8) Jan 03, 2011
kill the bees and make people dependent on monsanto franken seeds.
braindead
not rated yet Jan 03, 2011
"Bumble bees also make honey but it is used to feed the colony.."
Are bumble bees colonial?
axemaster
5 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2011
From wikipedia:

"Bumblebees form colonies. These colonies are usually much less extensive than those of honey bees... Often, mature bumblebee nests will hold fewer than 50 individuals."

So yes.
snowman95
5 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2011
Southern CT: I mix plenty of catnip & sunflowers in my veg garden to attract bees. No reduction in bumble bees noticeable here. Even honey bees increased in number in 2010, though still down from years past. Many smaller species pollinate too. Best harvest in years. Will watch carefully next season.
Feldagast
not rated yet Jan 03, 2011
I heard rumors that the massive increase in number of cell phone towers and coverage might have a factor in this.
MatthiasF
3 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2011
Most likely culprit is the sizeable drop in UV light from the sun during the latest cycle.

Bees use ultraviolet light to see, so if the amount of UV drops significantly (20-30% during this past cycle), they can't find food from the dimming and die out.
eachus
1 / 5 (4) Jan 03, 2011
Nice scare story but with almost zero content. They looked at eight species (without describing how they were chosen) and four of them had decreased in number significantly.

There are a lot of ecological models using differential equations. When you didn't have better tools, that gave you some insight into how ecological systems worked. Then came both chaos theory and the computers to actually run complex models. No surprise, real ecologies are huge chaotic systems.
What that means for any individual species, is that numbers will vary wildly with time, if the numbers go too low, that species will disappear. Usually because some more fit species has come along.

Apply this to individual species of bumble bees, and you can be almost certain that the most populous species ten years ago won't be the most populous species of bumble bees today. Will it again be the most populous species some time in the future? Again with probability approaching one.
rossr
5 / 5 (1) Jan 04, 2011
Confusing; the photo appears to be of a HONEY Bee, not a Bumble bee.
So I'm unsure if article is really about long-standing(last decade) decline in Honey Bees, or this is a new finding, really about Bumble Bees?
Decimatus
3 / 5 (4) Jan 04, 2011
Confusing; the photo appears to be of a HONEY Bee, not a Bumble bee.
So I'm unsure if article is really about long-standing(last decade) decline in Honey Bees, or this is a new finding, really about Bumble Bees?


Who knows? The quality of Physorg is getting worse and worse. Even the quality of people leaving comments has dropped to ridiculous lows recently.
Djincs
not rated yet Jan 04, 2011
kill the bees and make people dependent on monsanto franken seeds.

hahah, good job man, good logic you are incredibly ignorant I admit!
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (2) Jan 04, 2011
Coincidence that the rise of bee/bumblebee death occurs only in nations where gene altered crops (which produce their own pesticides) are widespread?

I think not.
phlipper
1 / 5 (2) Jan 04, 2011
I'll believe in the mass bee die-off when I see honey disappearing from the grocery shelves. I seriously expect to see an article about the great salt shortage, one of these days. And, there will be people who will crusade on the Peak Salt theories.
rynox
not rated yet Jan 04, 2011
I read a lot of postulating, but we know surprisingly little about the cause.
rynox
not rated yet Jan 06, 2011
Isn't this is how adaptation works? The weakest ones die and the stronger lineages survive? I don't think we should intervene. I also don't think we should ignore this... clearly, something in the environment has changed quickly and we should try to understand what changed.
Djincs
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2011
It is a virus(or bacteria of fungy), what happened with Europe's human population during the plague?
It happens all the time with lots of different animals, the last case I know is with the dieing off of frogs in South America-full devastation, what can we do, well not much nature will find its balance, it always does.Actually we can GM them to be resistant- this is the way to be always one step ahead from illneses.
And as you think it is really logical, it can spread really fast, bees from different colonies feeding from one plant, and then this bees spreading it into the hive....Actually to confirm this they should look is there any correlation between density of hives and the persisting problem, and are isolated hives more healty.
Sora777
not rated yet Jan 11, 2011
not a honeybee either - this have black ab. I also think this article is over generalization and a repeat doomday type article that some people obession on that have been moving around for at least two years now that I know of. Second picture are of either honeybee or a solitary bee. Some people mistook some solitary bee species for honeybees.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.