Bees & Climate Change

"Bumble bee decline is expected to worsen at
unprecedented rates
in the next 50 years"

Catherine Sirois-Delisle
Biology Ph.D. student, uOttawa

Temperatures around the world are getting warmer, and environments are changing. While this means a lot for humans, bees are in trouble too. From early-flowering plants to more severe weather, climate change is making the world a lot tougher for bee survival.

3 Bumble Bee Species in Danger

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

American bumble bee

Yellow banded bumble bee

Flowers Blooming Too Soon

Climate change affects the way that plants grow and when they flower. Warming climates cause snow to melt earlier and plants to flower sooner. Trees have been blooming two to three weeks earlier than usual. Many bees are still dormant when the plants begin to flower.

With less pollen and nectar, bees are less likely to reproduce and can become more susceptible to illness and predators. Without bees, plants lack important pollinators. This can impede their growth and flowering, which in turn means less food for bees.

Some bees have adjusted, syncing their life cycles to the change in bloom: waking up earlier and maturing to an adult as the nectar begins to flow. However, even a three to six day gap between flowers blooming and bees waking up could have negative implications.

Dying Crops

Think about what you eat in a day- about one of every three bites you take is made possible by pollinators like bees. It’s estimated that honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops each year.

87% of crops rely on pollinators to grow and flourish. Without bees, many of these crops would decline in production or disappear completely. There would be less variation in human diets, and costs of surviving crops would soar.

Bees also have an effect on the nutritional value of crops. Without bee pollination, tomatoes wouldn’t produce enough lycopene, an important antioxidant that helps protect our bodies from damage

If bees only have exposure to limited types of crops, the health of the hive declines dramatically. Queen bees may lay their eggs later than usual, leading to more time without worker bees to feed the hive.

The rusty patched bumble bee has declined
in the last 20 years.

Hotter Hive Temperatures

Certain areas that are already warm like deserts are growing hotter more quickly. Areas of southern North America are seeing rising temperatures, and some bees are migrating as many as 186 miles north to cooler temperatures.

As the bees move north, wild plants and crops are left without one of their main pollinators. Bees that already live in northern regions now find themselves having to fight the newly arrived bees for territory.

Bees on the northern edges of warming regions are not moving. These bees suffer rising temperatures, a factor that can be detrimental to hive survival. Studies have found that bees in cooler hives have a 1-2% mortality rate, while bees in hives with higher internal temperatures can see up to a 70% mortality rate in one year.

Severe Weather

Other than rising temperatures, climate change also causes new and more severe weather events. Extreme droughts cause plants to go dormant or die, leaving pollinators like bees without their main source of food.

Plants in drought stricken areas may not produce as much pollen and nectar and not be able to provide bees with enough food to keep the hive healthy and working.

Tornadoes and hurricanes can wipe out plant life, as well as hives themselves. Plants and agricultural crops can take time to be replenished, leaving bees without food for extended periods of time.

How You Can Help?

There is hope! By taking green initiatives, we can help slow the progression of climate change.

  • Plant a Bee gardens with bee-friendly plants to provide food for bees when wild plants may be suffering.
  • Volunteer in your community to create and protect habitats where bees live and pollinate. If you are able, learn how to start your own hive to supply bees with a healthy living environment.
  • If you can’t start your own hive, Sponsor-a-Hive to ensure that bees have a safe, monitored environment.
  • Create bee sanctuaries, providing shelter, flowers, and water for bees in your neighborhood.
  • Become a citizen scientist! Learn about bees in your area and how climate change is affecting them, and educate people around you.
  • Rally your local government to fund bee habitats. States like Minnesota have created programs that pay homeowners to transform their lawns into bee-friendly spaces.
  • And here you can find more information on how to save the bees.