Following a recent study, the International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has warned that almost one quarter of Europe's bumblebee species may face extinction, with a combination of climate change and habitat loss due to urbanization and agricultural practices largely to blame.
Of the 68 species of bumblebee found in Europe, 16 are now threatened with extinction. This is concerning because bumblebees play an important role as insect pollinators of European crops. Not only do they assist in plant reproduction, they aid the production of important foods in our diet such as various fruits and vegetables. Pollinating insects are estimated to contribute an excess of 22 billion Euros to agriculture in Europe per annum.
The European Commission funded study showed that 46% of the bumblebee species were experiencing decline, 29% were stable, but 13% were also increasing. Ana Nieto, European Biodiversity Officer of IUCN and coordinator of the study said in a news release "We are very concerned with these findings. Such a high proportion of threatened bumblebees can have serious implications for our food production."
Habitat change and loss remain a major threat to the bumblebee population, and this is occurring due to 2 major factors. First, climate change has resulted in both increasing temperatures and, at times, long periods of drought. Some bumblebees are restricted to certain geographic regions such as the Bombus hyperboreus, which only resides in Scandinavian tundra and the extreme North of Russia. Climatic changes to these areas could therefore dramatically affect the population of these bees. Second, changes in agricultural practices also negatively impact bumblebee populations. A combination of the removal of clovers, which constitute the main forage of the Bombus cullumanus, and habitat fragmentation has resulted in a dramatic 80% decline in the population of this bumblebee over the last decade. "They are often extremely specialized on their host plants, which makes them susceptible to any environmental change," said Pierre Rasmont of the IUCN.
Measures to prevent further decline are already underway in Europe. Increasing the margins around agricultural fields to ensure that there is a sufficient area of land rich in flowers is critical, alongside the preservation of grasslands. "The EU recently banned or restricted the use of certain pesticides that are dangerous to bees and is funding research into status of pollinators," said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik in a news release. "However, efforts clearly need to be scaled up."