Here’s the Buzz: Bumble Bee Extinction and What it Means for California Agriculture.
Updated: Sep 27
Hinkle's Honey, Alexis Duncil / WET Center
By Alisha Wilson: In recent years, the world has been overwhelmed with information about bees, their service to our environment, and their alarming decline. This month, we will cover the science, our current climate and how both play a serious role in the health of one of the most important pollinators on the planet.
Let’s start with the basics. What is the difference between honey bees and bumble bees, and what are their roles?
Bumble bees are like honey bees' older siblings, as they are larger in size and are able to pollinate more. According to the National Wildlife Federation, bumble bees’ wings beat 130 times or more per-second allowing them to pollinate more plants and produce more fruit. Although bumble bees don’t make nearly as much honey as honey bees, they serve a very important role in the world as they are known pollinators of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, and other crops.
With California leading the nation as the number one agricultural producing state, bumblebees are essential to the wellness of crops and other plants found across the 58 counties. California has about a thousand species of native bees, 26 of those being bumble bees. However, there are only four native species of bumble bees– the Crotch, Franklin’s, Suckley Cuckoo and Western Bumble Bees– that have been placed on the endangered list. Despite bumble bee's acts of pollination and service to our environment and our crops, their looming extinction has us wondering. What does their decline mean for agriculture, and the health of our planet as a whole?
Climate change and extreme weather haven’t just affected water, wildfires, and other problems across California; it has also extended to bees. This phenomenon has contributed significantly to the decline in bumble bees in North America and even Europe. Peter Soroye, a graduate student at the University of Ottawa and lead author of the study published in the journal Science says, "It's these extreme events throughout the year that's pushing bees beyond what they've ever had to handle before."
“From April 2020 to April 2021, beekeepers in the US lost around 45% of their colonies, according to Auburn University's College of Agriculture, which reports that the average acceptable turnover is around 20%.” Climate change may be amplifying a deadly parasite in honey bee populations. Research has shown that those bee-killing parasites become more prevalent in warmer climates which means as temperatures continue to rise the parasites could flourish and become catastrophic for bees.
We know, this feels more like a buzz kill. But, there’s still hope.
Serious matters call for serious solutions, like solving climate change and working to create a better “working” environment for bees. Here are some things that we can do:
Creating habitats for bees is always helpful as it gives them a place of shelter with access to food.
Leave out shallow containers of water to keep bees hydrated in extreme heat.
Be mindful about the kinds of pesticides you are using and how you use them.
There are so many solutions and steps we can take to ensure that bees are safe as we try to fight climate change. Understanding that they contribute so much to how the world operates is the first step and action is the next!
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