Native Bumblebees are Going Extinct
I spoke with Sheila Colla, a PhD candidate at York University in Toronto, about the extinction of several species of bumblebees who once lived in Southern Ontario. Many people are familiar with how honeybees have been affected by Colony Collapse Disorder, and now bumblebees are experiencing significant declines in population. While honeybees have been imported from Europe and Africa, bumblebees are native to Turtle Island. Since so many native plants have co-evolved with bumblebees, requiring them for pollination, these extinctions could pose serious trouble for the rest of the ecosystem.
Between 2004-2006, Sheila surveyed dozens of sites around Guelph, Ontario, and also traveled all the way south to Georgia and east to Massachusetts. On her travels she observed more than 9,000 bumblebees. Following on research done in the 1970s around Southern Ontario, Sheila found that of 14 species present then, there are only 11 present now. Further, Southern Ontario should have 20 different bumblebees, meaning that even by 1970, 6 were already extinct.
One particular bumblebee, Bombus affinis, was one of the top four bumblebees in the early 70s. Now, after observing more than 9,000, she found only one. "If it's definitely not already extinct, it's going extinct," she said.
It's unknown what effects this will have on the ecosystem; Sheila fears it could have a cascading effect that would end up leading to the extinction or extirpation (localized extinction) of native plants, who rely on bumblebees for pollination, and then native animals, who depend on those plants for food. We could see the day when we would have to physically pollinate each flower with our own hands if we would ever want to grow food anymore.
For more information, see,
Ontario’s bumblebees are disappearing, which is an article about Sheila's research, and
Wild bee decline 'catastrophic', which is about the UK but also has links to the bigger picture.
Download 15:01  Recorded April 23, 2008
This interview is hosted on rabble.ca, so there is an intro ad for rabble. Hope you don't mind, the server at the radio station is inaccessible to me these days.