American bumblebee facing extinction in Canada

Bumblebee on flower Photo by Kasabutskaya Nataliya/Shutterstock.com

The American bumblebee is facing “imminent extinction” from Canada, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Insect Conservation.

The new research reveals some startling truths about the decline of the American bumblebee in Canada, which includes about 42 of the country’s 850 or so bee species. The researchers looked at historic data over a period of 100 years and found an almost 89 percent decrease in bumblebees relative to other bees.

Their range has decreased, too.

“It used to stretch from Windsor to Toronto, and all the way to Ottawa and into the Quebec area, but [they’re] now only found in some core areas,” said York University doctoral student Victoria MacPhail, who led the research team.

The researchers aren’t entirely sure what’s happened to the species, but they do have some theories: there’s the loss of grassland habitats in Ontario, an increased number of non-native species transferring diseases or out-competing the bees and, of course, climate change.

But it’s not just bad news for the bumblebees—the team of researchers warn this could lead to “cascading impacts” across the country. The variety of bumblebees facing extinction are important pollinators needed to grow Canada’s crops, including apples, tomatoes, blueberries and legumes. They’re also pertinent to the growth of countless trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. But despite the widespread and potentially devastating effects, little is being done to curb current trends.

“The species is at risk of extinction and it’s currently not protected in any way,” said Assistant Professor Sheila Colla, an expert in bees and endangered species in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and a co-author of the study. What’s even more concerning, perhaps, is that this study echoes Colla’s previous findings related to the critically endangered rusty-patched bumblebee that was once found in southern Ontario. It faced a similarly drastic decline towards extinction without receiving any protections or conservation management, and as a result has not been seen in Canada for 10 years.

Now that the team of researchers has assessed the extent of the American bumblebees’ decline, and where the remaining populations are located, they can design an effective conservation management plan, so the species doesn’t disappear from our landscape completely.

“Immediate action may save it from the same fate as the rusty-patched bumblebee,” Colla says.

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