The reputation of bees seems to have improved in recent years, thanks to a more general knowledge of their contributions to our ecosystem (or maybe thanks to Pixar's 2007 Bee Movie!). Bumble bees, for example, actually just keep to themselves. They fly at a slow pace and they stick to what they know, pollinating flowers.
The next time you see one, however, take the time to look closely at its physical attributes. Take a picture if you have the time (and with their slow pace, you will). You may be looking at a species that is going extinct.
There is good reason to think that climate change is contributing to the decline of bumble bees in Europe and North America, says Professor Jeremy Kerr of the Department of Biology. Some species have completely disappeared, and no one has seen them in 10 years. Some could also be so rare that you might only find one. Unfortunately, we can't be everywhere at once. We need people's information on what species they are seeing, and how abundant they are. Some of the bees are winners, while some of them are in trouble.
Bumble bees are, quite simply, a vital part of our ecosystem. Many of their activities are difficult to measure in terms of economic contribution, compared to honey bees. However, bumble bees pollinate many wild flower species that birds and small mammals rely on for food. They're the heavy lifters of the pollinator world.
Bumble bees' decline is in dispute. We don't know which species are going extinct, where they are declining, and we don't know when they started declining, says Kerr. It's difficult to have a conversation about how to save them from extinction.
How you can help
You don't need to have a lot of experience to identify bumble bees you see in your backyard.
Next time you see a bumblebee, pull out your smartphone and take a few photos. Go on www.bumblebeewatch.org and upload your photo. You'll be able to identify the species of the bee easily with the straightforward, built-in guide.
How is the health of the pollinators in your neighbourhood? Tell us which species you're seeing. Some of them may be endangered, and we need your help to find out more, says Kerr.
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