Science: Bees have become ‘increasingly stressed’ by climate change


Save our bees! (Picture: Getty Images)

Species of bee could be lost forever due to climate change, scientists have warned.

The little insects play a very big role in the world’s food supply.

Bees – among the best pollinators in the world – are responsible for 70 of approximately 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world’s population.

But climate change has been harming bees for almost a century, according to new research.

Habitat loss caused by rising temperatures dates back to 1925 – much further than previously thought.

Scientists recently examined bumblebee specimens across the UK and identified ‘asymmetry’ – where by left and right wings developing disproportionately.

Findings revealed that bees first began to become stressed by the weather around 1925, and that it affected their normal growth.

The research team found that in hotter and wetter years the pollinators displayed greater ‘lop-sidedness’.


Honeybee on yellow coneflower

Bees are some of the world’s best pollinators and vital for global food supply (Picture: Getty Images)


EMBARGOED TO 0501 THURSDAY AUGUST 18 Undated handout picture issued by the Imperial College London of Dr Selina Brace at the Natural History Museum in London studying a bumblebee. Issue date: Wednesday August 17, 2022. PA Photo. Bees have become increasingly stressed by climate change over the past 100 years, museum collections indicate. An analysis of bumblebee wings from a network of UK institutions shows signs of stress linked to conditions getting hotter and wetter. As well as revealing what is linked to stress in bees in the past, the study can help predict when and where bees will face most stress and potential decline in the future, researchers suggest. See PA story SCIENCE Bees. Photo credit should read: Trustees of the Natural History Museum London/Imperial College London /PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Dr Selina Brace at the Natural History Museum in London studying a bumblebee (Picture: PA)

Senior author Dr Richard Gill, of Imperial College London, explained that the future of bee populations did not look positive.

He said: ‘With hotter and wetter conditions predicted to place bumblebees under higher stress, the fact these conditions will become more frequent under climate change means bumblebees may be in for a rough time over the 21st century.’

In Britain, a third of wild bees and are in decline.

If current trends continue, certain species will be lost altogether. But scientists can use their research to work out when bees might be particularly at risk – and explore what we can do to protect them.


EMBARGOED TO 0501 THURSDAY AUGUST 18 Undated handout picture issued by the Imperial College London of collection drawers at the Natural History Museum in London containing bumblebees. Issue date: Wednesday August 17, 2022. PA Photo. Bees have become increasingly stressed by climate change over the past 100 years, museum collections indicate. An analysis of bumblebee wings from a network of UK institutions shows signs of stress linked to conditions getting hotter and wetter. As well as revealing what is linked to stress in bees in the past, the study can help predict when and where bees will face most stress and potential decline in the future, researchers suggest. See PA story SCIENCE Bees. Photo credit should read: Trustees of the Natural History Museum London/Imperial College London /PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Bees displayed greater ‘lopsidedness’ in their wings during extreme hot or wet weather (Picture: PA)


EMBARGOED TO 0501 THURSDAY AUGUST 18 Undated handout picture issued by the Imperial College London of Dr Andres Acre at the National Museums Scotland analysing bumblebees. Issue date: Wednesday August 17, 2022. PA Photo. Bees have become increasingly stressed by climate change over the past 100 years, museum collections indicate. An analysis of bumblebee wings from a network of UK institutions shows signs of stress linked to conditions getting hotter and wetter. As well as revealing what is linked to stress in bees in the past, the study can help predict when and where bees will face most stress and potential decline in the future, researchers suggest. See PA story SCIENCE Bees. Photo credit should read: Ashleigh Whiffin/Imperial College London /PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Dr Andres Acre at the National Museums Scotland analyses bee specimens (Picture: PA)

Lead author Aoife Cantwell-Jones, also from Imperial, said: ‘By using a proxy of stress visible on the bee’s external anatomy and caused by stress during development just days or weeks before, we can look to more accurately track factors placing populations under pressure through historic space and time.’

As well as revealing past stress in bees, the study can help predict when and where their survival will be threatened most in the future.

The researchers also used ancient DNA techniques to map a century of bumblebee genomes.

In a pioneering breakthrough, methods typically employed for woolly mammoths and early humans were introduced for the first time used in insects.


EMBARGOED TO 0501 THURSDAY AUGUST 18 Undated handout picture issued by the Imperial College London of Dr Richard Gill at the Natural History Museum in London studying a bumblebee. Issue date: Wednesday August 17, 2022. PA Photo. Bees have become increasingly stressed by climate change over the past 100 years, museum collections indicate. An analysis of bumblebee wings from a network of UK institutions shows signs of stress linked to conditions getting hotter and wetter. As well as revealing what is linked to stress in bees in the past, the study can help predict when and where bees will face most stress and potential decline in the future, researchers suggest. See PA story SCIENCE Bees. Photo credit should read: Trustees of the Natural History Museum London/Imperial College London /PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Dr Richard Gill says bumblebees ‘may be in for a rough time’ due to climate change (Picture: PA)

By taking just a single leg from each of the bees, they revealed the reported stress may lead to genetic diversity loss.

The data reveals how bee DNA has altered, shedding light on how whole populations have either adapted to fresh environments – or been wiped out.

Previous research has found every square kilometre in the UK has lost an average of 11 species of bee between 1980 and 2013.

It has far-reaching consequences. Insects provide a food source for many birds, amphibians, bats and reptiles.

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