by Tom Laskawy
4 Jan 2011
Photo: Steve Punter
According to a new study out of the University of Illinois, Urbana, and published in January's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, several bumblebee species that were previously widespread are in peril (via Reuters):
[Researchers] documented a 96 percent decline in the numbers of the four species, and said their range had shrunk by as much as 87 percent. As with honeybees, a pathogen is partly involved, but the researchers also found evidence of inbreeding caused by habitat loss.
"We provide incontrovertible evidence that multiple Bombus species have experienced sharp population declines at the national level," the researchers reported ... calling the findings "alarming."
These are not the only bumblebee species in North America, and several other species have not experienced the same drops. But these four species historically had some of the largest and most widespread populations. The cause of the decline is not fully understood -- it may or may not be caused in part by an Asian parasite -- and it isn't known if the decline is from the bumblebees' version of Colony Collapse Disorder. Perhaps because honeybees are domesticated, while bumblebees are wild pollinators, the honeybee has been studied in much greater detail. But bumblebees are still crucial pollinators for native plants and, as any home gardener will tell you, many a vegetable patch.
The natural world continues to ring alarm bell after alarm bell. And while this study was a bee census more than anything else and demands further research, one would hope that it might serve as a wakeup call to the EPA to stop shilling for industrial pesticides that might be harming bees, and to start living up to those first two letters in its name.