SFU study finds that bee populations may not be shrinking as much as many think. (Aldergrove Star files)

SFU study finds that bee populations may not be shrinking as much as many think. (Aldergrove Star files)

Bee population estimates bumbled, SFU researchers find

New study is adding to a growing body of work that suggests not all bee populations are in decline

Don’t bee-lieve everything you read; reports of the bumble bee’s death are greatly exaggerated.

A new study from Simon Fraser University is adding to a growing body of work that suggests not all bee populations are in decline.

The plight of pollinators, such as bumble bees, has been the subject of high-profile studies, news reports, public awareness campaigns and corporate drives for years.

One study reported that overall bumble bee populations have dropped 46 per cent in North America over the last century.

However, researchers at SFU have developed more accurate modelling that shows just a five per cent decline in North America overall.

While some species of bees have seen alarming rates of decline, the findings, published in the journal Biological Conservation, suggest evidence gathering and modelling need to be improved so conservationists can prioritize the bee species most at risk.

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Melissa Guzman, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences at SFU, said that when they reconsidered the evidence, the department found that it’s not all doom and gloom for bumble bees.

“In a rare case of good news for biodiversity, we found there is no evidence of community-wide declines of bees. Many species are certainly declining dramatically, but many others seem to be doing fine,” Guzman explained

According to Guzman, scientists have had to rely on large datasets from museums, surveys and community science initiatives for their analysis of overall bee populations.

But often the data is collected haphazardly and the analysis has focused on a limited number of bee species, without taking the ranges and detection records of other species into account. This has inadvertently led to reports that have over-estimated the decline of bee populations.

Aldergrove beekeeper Bryn Jones province-wide, or country-wide research dollars for this kind of thing to be done properly, is just not there.

“The government’s money has been spent appropriately on saving human lives in the pandemic, not on paying researchers to figure out where one bumble species, bombus bohemicus, might be,” Jones said.

The estimates are especially skewed in North America, where historical data on bee visitation hasn’t been as reliable and consistent as in Europe. The new multi-species modelling done on European bumble bee populations was more in line with previous studies, but the estimated population decline is still lower than previously thought (six per cent instead of 17).

While researchers did not find major overall declines across all species, many individual species appear to be in trouble. One species of critically endangered North American bumble bee, B. bohemicus, is estimated to have seen a dramatic decline of 73 per cent based on the new modelling.

While Jones noted that there are many wonderful people researching about honey bees, it is practises done by local governments like the Township of Langley that could make all the difference.

“Locally, the Township of Langley could do its part for the benefit of local pollinators, by adopting methods in their parks and roadway median maintenance which enhance pollinators’ survival, not put them at greater risk,” Jones said.

For example, Jones suggested promoting the growth of plants which provide for pollinator nutrients spring, summer and fall.

“Unfortunately, the best bee reward plants often get cut down. In spring , bees love dandelions, in summer, it’s clover and blackberries and in fall, goldenrod,” he explained. “Recent Township practice this past year in Jackman Wetlands Park has been the opposite of being a compliment to pollinator survival.”


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