Feast Your Eyes: Bumblebee Populations Stumble

It's not just colony collapse disorder. Researchers say there's fewer North American bumblebees, too.

Sydney Cameron, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, looked at how populations of eight common bumblebee species in the United States are doing (there are about 50 known species) and compared present-day samples with evidence from museum records. The findings don't look good. According to Cameron's study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, within the last 20 years, bumblebee populations fell by up to 96 percent.

In other words, it's not just domesticated honeybees that are in trouble. There's fewer wild bees, too—and these are the bees with higher-frequency buzzing that tends to shake off more pollen.

Because insects pollinate about a third of the world's food crops, the precipitous decline in pollinator species continues to raise questions about the impact agriculture—from pesticide use to pollinating crops with only one kind of bee—has on all pollinator species. What exactly is at stake for the world's food supply?

Chart from "Patterns of widespread decline in North American bumble bees," PNAS. January 3, 2011.