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Climate 'vice' constricts bumblebees' natural ranges – researchers

 Climate change is threatening the survival of bumblebees, significantly reducing the habitats in which they can survive, researchers say.

Climate change is threatening the survival of bumblebees, significantly reducing the habitats in which they can survive, researchers say.

They say the natural ranges of these key pollinators are being compressed in both Europe and North America.

The analysis indicates that warming is having a greater impact than pesticides or land use change.

To ensure bees survive, humans may have to help move them to cooler areas, the European and American researchers add.

Century of data

Many creatures, including butterflies, have responded to a warming climate by moving towards the poles or towards higher ground.

Bumblebees have dealt with the increasing heat by disappearing in large numbers from portions of their southern ranges, but the insects seem to have baulked at moving north.

The study was carried out by a team of scientists from Europe, the US and Canada.

They examined more than 420,000 historical and current records of bumblebee observations between 1901 and 2010 relating to 67 different species.

Taking the period between 1901 and 1974 as their baseline, the researchers found that in recent decades when temperatures have increased, the bees started to die off in the southern part of their ranges in both Europe and North America, at the same time.

"These species are at serious and immediate risk, for rapid human induced climate change," said lead author Prof Jeremy Kerr from the University of Ottawa.

'Impacts large'

"The impacts are large and they are under way - they are not just something to worry about at some vague future time."

The researchers say the losses amount to a retreat of around 300km or around 9km a year from the bumblebees' traditional southern limits in Europe and North America.

"This is a surprise," said Dr Leif Richardson, one of the authors, from the University of Vermont.

"The bees are losing range on their southern margin and failing to pick up territory at the northern margin - so their habitat range is shrinking."

The researchers argue that the bees are "hitting a wall" on their northern ranges. They believe the insects are struggling to go further towards the pole because the lack the capacity to rapidly grow a new population when they move.

"This population growth rate limitation we suspect may be implicated as the key limitation on their capacity to track shifting climate conditions northward and into colder areas," said Prof Kerr.

Source: BBC

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