Sustainability Environment

Scientists struggling to find common bee species in California 

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside were unable to find several bumble bee species known to live in the state during recent census research. 
Bumblebee on flower. (iStock)

Story at a glance


  • A team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside were unable to find some once common species of bumble bees during work to update a statewide census on the insects.  

  • Researchers visited 17 sites throughout the state and were only able to collect 17 bumble bee species, representing only 68 percent of the species previously known to live in California.  

  • Climate change, habitat destruction and pesticide use could all be contributing to lower bee populations.  

Scientists in California have had a hard time tracking down several native species of bumble bees, a sign that the insects’ population might be struggling in the state.   

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside noticed the species were missing as they worked to craft a statewide census of the pollinators, something that has not been done in 40 years.   

To update the data, a team of UCR researchers led by entomologist Hollis Woodard collected bees from 17 locations representing six different ecosystems known to host a variety of bumble bee species.  


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But at four of the sites in Southern California, researchers were not able to locate and collect more than 10 bees during the visits. Researchers were able to collect a total of 17 bumble bee species which represents only 68 percent of the types of bumble bees previously known to live in the state.  

“Although we found that relative to other sites the mountains are home to the most diverse bumble bee populations, even at those sites we also failed to find some species that used to be there,” Woodard said in a statement.  

Woodard’s team had a tough time finding what was previously one of the most common bumble bee species in California, the western bumble bee.  

“We didn’t find it even once,” Woodard said. “If it was okay, we should have seen it,” Woodard added.  

The western bumble bee is one of four bee species that is now included under the state’s endangered species list after California’s Third Appellate District Court of Appeal issued a strange ruling last month that bees could be protected since they meet the legal definition of fish.  

None of the four species of bumble bee were found by Woodard’s team during their census work.  

Woodard and her team’s findings were published in the scientific journal Ecology and Evolution.  


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