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Researchers make 'depressing' discovery about bumblebee colonies struggling to survive heat waves: 'Kind of heartbreaking to think that many may disappear'

"Normally, bumblebees beat the heat inside their homes when workers flap their wings in unison to create a cooling breeze."

"Normally, bumblebees beat the heat inside their homes when workers flap their wings in unison to create a cooling breeze."

Photo Credit: iStock

Warmer temperatures are overheating bumblebee nests, killing off these important pollinators, The Guardian reported.

What's happening?

A new study concluded that many species of bumblebees worldwide have suffered declines as it's become too warm for them to regulate the temperatures in their hives. The research also concluded that nests could not survive temperatures above 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit; optimum temperatures fall between 82.4 and 89.6 F.

Normally, bumblebees beat the heat inside their homes when workers flap their wings in unison to create a cooling breeze. However, as global temperatures continue to rise, this becomes an insurmountable challenge. While some individuals may be able to cope with the heat, if the nest becomes too warm to raise healthy larvae, the entire colony will diminish, lead author Peter Kevan told The Guardian.

Why is this research important?

Unlike many insects, bumblebees thrive in cooler regions such as Britain and North America. This means they are particularly vulnerable to warming global temperatures and heat waves. 

There is already evidence that these bees are abandoning warmer parts of their ranges in search of cooler temperatures. For instance, some mountain species are moving to higher altitudes, but they'll eventually run out of options, as The Guardian reported.

Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, who was not involved in the research, called the findings "really depressing," according to The Guardian.

He told the publication that other studies have suggested that the United Kingdom "might lose about half our bumblebee species in coming years, depending on the pace of climate change."

"It is kind of heartbreaking to think that many may disappear," Goulson said.

This is concerning news, as bumblebees are important pollinators of more than 25 crops worldwide, including cranberries, zucchini, melons, cucumbers, alfalfa, sweet peppers, strawberries, blueberries, and sunflowers, per Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. 

According to the Xerces Society, in Britain and the Netherlands, where some species of bumblebees and other bees have become extinct, scientists have noted a decline in the abundance of insect-pollinated plants. 

What's being done about rising global temperatures?

According to Goulson, to protect bumblebees, it's vitally important that global temperatures do not surpass 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) of heating.

To this end, you can help by reducing your dependence on planet-heating fuel sources. Try riding your bike instead of driving, investing in an induction stove, or signing up for community solar. You can also enact policy change by voting for pro-climate-action candidates. 

Programs that collaborate with local farmers to integrate bee-friendly practices into agriculture and citywide efforts to create safe habitats for pollinators, called urban bee gardens, are helping to bolster the resilience of our food systems.

In addition, you can support bees and other pollinators by providing them with food and shelter by rewilding your yard with native plants. This will also help you save money by reducing water usage.

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