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A warmer climate is making the world’s most common bumblebee even more common

A bumblebee on a blue flower. Photo.
Photo: Kennet Ruona

Many species of bee are threatened by global warming, but not all. The buff-tailed bumblebee is the world’s most common bee and will likely remain that way, as researchers from Lund University have discovered that this species benefits from a warmer climate.

Through research into buff-tailed bumblebees collected by amateurs and researchers over a period of 150 years, biologists and climate researchers at Lund University have concluded that the world’s most common bee, the buff-tailed bumblebee, is becoming even more common. In 1871, the buff-tailed bumblebee species comprised 21 per cent of large earth bumblebees. In 2015 this proportion had increased to 79 per cent.

“The buff-tailed bumblebee is a southern species that thrives in a hot climate. Sweden is located in the northern part of the species’ distribution, so it is actually not particularly surprising that it is benefitting from the increasingly warm climate here,” explains Lina Herbertsson, who led the study.

“It’s positive that the buff-tailed bumblebee is managing so well, but we also don’t know whether this increase is happening at the expense of other bees,” she continues.

It will likely be necessary to tackle climate change in order to preserve the diversity of bees in the long term. To avoid species that can withstand global warming out-competing other species, the researchers point to the importance of plentiful flowers and spaces for hives.

As well as the buff-tailed bumblebee becoming increasingly common, the study also shows that the bees are now active roughly one month earlier than was the case in the early 1900s. This is likely due to rising temperatures and the increasingly early arrival of spring.

The bees that were investigated are preserved in the collections of the Biological Museum at Lund University.

The article, written by Lina Herbertsson, Reem Khalaf, Karin Johnson, Rune Bygebjerg, Sofia Blomqvist and Anna Persson is published in Basic and Applied Ecology: Long-term data shows increasing dominance of Bombus terrestris with climate warming.