An international team of ecologists and biologists analyzed more than 400,000 mentions of bumblebees in academic and scientific literature with reference to location between 1901 and 2010. These references were used to determine changes in the creatures’ habitat. (You can undertake your own sleuthing using one of the authors’ open-source databases.) The researchers found that bumblebees, unlike most other observed species, aren’t shifting into higher latitudes in North America and Europe. And they are suffering for their intransigence.
INCREASING TEMPERATURES HAVE CLOSED OFF THE SOUTHERN PARTS OF THE INSECT'S RANGE, IN MANY AREAS FORCING THE SOUTHERNMOST BEES NORTHWARD BY MORE THAN 185 MILES.
The bumblebee’s habitable range is shrinking rapidly... Since the 49 species of North American bumblebee havetonguesof varying length, they can pollinate flowers of many shapes and sizes. They’re also clever little devils: The ones with the short tongues have figured out how to gnaw through the backs of flowers to get at the nectar, in a process known as “nectar robbing.”
The shrinking range may already have had irreparable consequences. Within the past decade, two species of bumblebee with already small ranges have gone extinct. It’s not clear that climate change was solely responsible—disease and destruction of their habitat by humans probably contributed—but it’s likely to have played a role.
It’s not yet clear why bumblebees are failing to head toward the poles like so many other species. That’s a great topic for the next set of ecologists to address.