A swath of recent research has shown that as climate is changing, some species and ecosystems are struggling to adapt. It's why some have said that we're in the midst of the "sixth mass extinction." Although they're small, bees have an outsize impact on the health of their ecosystems — and our collective livelihood. And some bee species are at risk of extinction.
Bumblebees are pollinators, insects essential for the well-being of both natural and human-made ecosystems. From a rolling wildflower meadow to acres of corn, bees are the diligent workers keeping things afloat. Without a healthy bee population, the natural spread of flora would be diminished and farmers would have to turn to costly alternative methods. The idea of crops pollinated by tiny robotic bee-drones has even been explored.
In February, an article in Science by Soroye et al. linked the risk of extinction for bees in North America and Europe to climate change. Heat waves — extended periods of elevated temperatures — pose risks to bumblebees who evolved in cooler climates. In areas where heat waves become more common, the risk of local extinction increases. Bumblebee populations have been monitored for years, and it's already apparent that across species, their populations are declining (almost 50% in North American over the past century!).
It's not all bad: where climate change will cause temperatures to be more comfortable for the bees, bees might expand their ranges. However, Soroye et al. found that the negative effects of heat waves are predicted to outweigh the positive effects of shifting regional climate. To save the bees, climate change mitigation is imperative — and it wouldn't hurt to plant a bumblebee garden this spring, either.