Bumblebees Quickly Mutating In Response To Global Warming, Say Scientists

Scientists have determined that bumblebees are quickly mutating — or evolving — to adjust to the effects of global warming. The bodies of bumblebees in the United States are quickly adapting to the changing climate.

Scientists researched three separate mountaintops where the golden belted bumblebee used to be the most dominant species at 50 percent. However, when the research was recently conducted, the golden belted bumblebee population had fallen to account for a mere 20 percent. Studying bumblebees at such a high altitude omits unnatural variables — such as pesticides and pathogens — from the study results.

Two species of the bumblebee in the Rocky Mountains have shortened their tongues by over 25 percent in the last forty years according to scientists in a new research study. According to the scientists, global warming has affected the flowers that the bumblebees feed on, and as such, the bumblebees have evolved physically in a very short amount of time.

Reportedly, one species of bumblebee has a tongue that was once half the length of its body. The long tongue enabled the bumblebee to access flowers of a certain size. However, now that global warming has caused the flowers to grow smaller, the tongue of the bumblebee has shrunk because it is no longer required to be so long. Having such a long tongue has become a waste of energy for the bumblebee, and as such, nature has omitted it at an alarmingly quick rate. Whereas scientists have examined the effects of global warming on bumblebees and other insects, they’ve usually focused on developmental issues, timing and behavior modifications, and migration. This latest study, however, is one of the first that has factored in a marked physical mutation in response to global warming.

According to the research scientists, the temperature in the three areas that were studied has risen 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1960s. As a result, the types of flowers that normally grow in these areas has changed considerably, as well as the amount of flowers the areas were found to contain.

The lead author of the study, Professor Candace Galen from the University of Missouri, says that the evolution of shorter tongues by the bumblebees may actually be a positive mutation.

“We are not saying climate change isn’t a problem for bumblebees – it is a major problem. However, our findings indicate that some bumblebees may be able to adapt if provided adequate habitat, and are largely shielded from environmental pollutants, such as pesticides.”

The study concerning the evolution of bumblebees due to climate change was published in the journal Science.

[Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images]