Home Animals Shrinking bee tongues could have huge impact on plant diversity

Shrinking bee tongues could have huge impact on plant diversity

Warming weather is causing bee tongues to shrink. Turns out that the deep flowers bumblebees prefer are dying off as the weather warms, and the bees no longer have a need for their long tongues.

Researchers have discovered that bumblebees tongues are shrinking in length, and they believe that climate change is the reason why. The bees studied were located in the Rocky Mountains. As summers have grown warmer, many of the bumble bees favorite flowers, many of which are very deep, have died off.

As these deep flowers have died off, the bumble bees have found themselves no longer needing their long tongues. Want not, waste not. As a result, bumblebees are becoming generalists, with shorter tongues, and relying more on shallow flowers.

Researchers did not come to this conclusion lightly. Before honing in on climate change, scientists looked into competition from invaders, shrinking body size, coevolution with the flowers, and other factors.

Experts fear that global warming could wipe out certain species of bumblebees. Scientists are also worried about plants. Bees are essential for pollination and if they stop visiting certain flowers, those flowers could potentially die off.

Bees have come under threat in recent years. Last May, researchers found that as many as 40 percent of bee colonies had died off from April 2014 to April 2015. Winter loss lates have been declining, slightly, but summer loss rates rose from under 20 percent last year to over 27 percent.

Bees are now being closely watched by researchers as populations have suffered a rapid decline since 2006. Much of the loss has been attributed to colony collapse disorder, or CCD for short. Authorities in both the United States and Europe have reported heavy losses over the past few years.

The causes behind CCD remain unclear, viruses, mold, and other factors having been suggested. Pesticide use has also been blamed for the deaths. It is possible that several factors are contributing to CCD. What is clear is that if bee colonies continue to die off at such a high rate, it could have dire effects of the environment. Bees are essential for their role in pollination.

Some researchers fear that the overuse of pesticides is causing colonies to collapse. One type of pesticide in particular has been blamed for CCD, neonics, but the evidence so far is inconclusive. Still, researchers believe that neonic could be interfering with bees and their ability to function. The pesticide doesn’t necessarily kill the bees outright, but instead decreases their ability to function.

The decline of so-called pollinators has attracted a lot of high level attention, including even the White House. The Obama Administration has noted that bees, as well as other pollinators (such as birds) have declined in recent years. On the global scale, 87 out of 115 food crops depend on pollinators, accounting for a total of 35 percent of total production. The total value of these contributions in the United States is estimated to total 24 billion dollars.

Shrinking bee tongues is certainly a “tiny” problem, but the consequences could be huge. As the bees’ tongues shrink, their roles as pollinators will change, and that could leave some flowers high and dry.