Bees in climate change. The Problem: Although some politicians may disagree, the science is clear: Humans have had a significant impact on the warming of our planet. Climate change doesn’t merely mean higher temperatures, higher rain and snowfall, or more pronounced natural disasters, like hurricanes and tornados. It also means higher sea levels, longer and hotter summers, changes in the normal moisture availability of soils, and a host of other environmental disruptions related to food production.
Bees in world climate change, warming of our planet
So, what does all this mean for the bees? Because flowers and bees evolved together, it’s only natural that what affects one will likely affect the other. Soil-nesting bees need specific soil types; additional moisture or hotter temperatures might adversely affect their nesting areas. According to a 2020 study published in Science , bumble bee nesting has been shown to be negatively affected by volatile temperature fluctuations. And if flowers do not last as long due to changes in the climate, they likely won’t be able to offer pollen or secrete nectar for as long, either.
One illustrative example comes courtesy of the great naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who recorded the blooming dates of 500 flowering plants around his cabin in Walden Pond and home in Concord, Massachusetts, during the mid-1800s. When Elizabeth Ellwood of Boston University updated the phenology records (phenology is the study of timing of plant events, such as flowering) with current flowering dates, she found that Thoreau’s plants, on average, “are now flowering 10 days earlier than they were during Thoreau’s time.” During the most recent decade (2010 to 2019), the same 2020 Science study found that flowering was occurring a full 20 to 21 days earlier than during Thoreau’s time.
Walden Pond is not an isolated incident: When phenology records of the great American conservationist Aldo Leopold were updated from the notes he made at his isolated “cabin” along the Wisconsin River, similar discrepancies were found. These findings are consistent with those in areas across the country.
The Solution: Climate change is going to necessitate tough solutions. It starts with those of us on the local level being willing to make changes. But we also need accurate information and informed politicians who are willing to make the tough decisions. Politicians seldom look beyond the next election. Adapting to climate change requires long-range vision.
For bees, in particular, the EPA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) need to be de-politicized and empower the dedicated employees—working on better and safer foods, pollinator protection, cleaner water, reduced air pollution, and ways to mitigate the inevitability of climate change—to make a real difference.