The flight of the bumble bee: Why are they disappearing?

Aug 11, 2011

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist is trying to learn what is causing the decline in bumble bee populations and also is searching for a species that can serve as the next generation of greenhouse pollinators.

Bumble bees, like honey bees, are important pollinators of and are used to pollinate greenhouse crops like peppers and tomatoes. But colonies of Bombus occidentalis used for greenhouse pollination began to suffer from disease problems in the late 1990s and companies stopped rearing them. Populations of other bumble bee species are also believed to be in decline.

Entomologist James Strange is searching for solutions at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Pollinating Insects-Biology, Management and Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of improving agricultural sustainability.

Many greenhouse growers now use commercially produced Bombus impatiens, a generalist pollinator native to the Midwest and Eastern and Canada. But scientists are concerned about using a bee outside its native range, and some western states restrict the import and use of non-native bees. If B. impatiens were to escape and form wild colonies in the western United States, they could compete with for food and resources and expose native to pathogens they are ill equipped to combat.

Strange has been studying a pretty, orange-striped generalist named Bombus huntii, native to the western half of the country, that could be used in greenhouses in the western United States. He is determining how to best rear B. huntii in a laboratory setting, a vital step in commercializing it.

To understand the decline of B. occidentalis, Strange and his colleagues also have been tracking its habitat range and . Evidence gathered so far shows that the range and populations of B. occidentalis have declined, that it is not as genetically diverse as it used to be, and that it has higher pathogen prevalence than other bee species with stable populations. The results were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers also have assembled a large database with information on more than 80,000 Bombus specimens representing 10 species throughout the country, including B. occidentalis. With Geographic Information System (GIS) modeling technology, they were able to construct historic and current range maps of several bumble bee species. The mapping process is described in the Uludag Bee Journal.

Explore further: Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

More information: Read more about this research in the August 2011 issue of Agricultural Research magazine. www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/aug11/bees0811.htm

Provided by United States Department of Agriculture

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

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 ...

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

Jan 03, 2011

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.

Bee pastures may help pollinators prosper

Aug 04, 2010

Beautiful wildflowers might someday be planted in "bee pastures," floral havens created as an efficient, practical, environmentally friendly, and economically sound way to produce successive generations of healthy young bees.

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 ...

Recommended for you

Slimy fish and the origins of brain development

8 minutes ago

Lamprey—slimy, eel-like parasitic fish with tooth-riddled, jawless sucking mouths—are rather disgusting to look at, but thanks to their important position on the vertebrate family tree, they can offer ...

Global importance of pollinators underestimated

11 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —Declines in populations of pollinators, such as bees and wasps, may be a key threat to nutrition in some of the most poorly fed parts of the globe, according to new research.

Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

19 hours ago

The meteorite impact that spelled doom for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago decimated the evergreens among the flowering plants to a much greater extent than their deciduous peers, according to a study ...

New camera sheds light on mate choice of swordtail fish

21 hours ago

We have all seen a peacock show its extravagant, colorful tail feathers in courtship of a peahen. Now, a group of researchers have used a special camera developed by an engineer at Washington University in ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

epsi00
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
Ask Monsanto, they sure know the reasons of the decline of the bee and bumble bee populations.
rawa1
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
Ask Monsanto, they sure know the reasons of the decline of the bee and bumble bee populations.
It's my theory, too. IMO the bees, bumblebees or even some bats are poisoned with GMO pollens. These GMO pollens aren't toxic for bees, but they contain a foreign proteins of soil bacteria, which the immune systems of bees tries to fight with - but without success, because these proteins cannot be killed and they're coming with food again and again. It forces the immune system to gradually increase the number and level of antigens, which is the principle of so called allergization. Such excited immune system can initiate a violent allergic reaction even in contact with proteins, which are quite harmless under normal circumstances.

The problem is, this kind of allergy develops slowly and it makes the bees/bats vulnerable during their hibernation in winter.
Moebius
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
Hopefully there is something to fill the niche. This is bad news. This year I haven't seen a single Honeybee in my garden. A lot of Bumblebees though. A few of some really small green bees too.
epsi00
not rated yet Aug 12, 2011
The problem with bees and bumble bees is that once they disappeared, they are gone for good. It's not that we can make new ones in a factory and replace them, like we do with fish. So what would Monsanto shareholders do once the bees disappear? They will just invest in sheep or horses or whatnot.