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Western bumble bee declines linked to climate change, pesticides and land cover

An image of a Western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis)
The western bumble bee's presence in Montana is declining

A new study published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that climate change, pesticides and shifting land cover over the last two decades are connected with a decrease in the western bumble bee’s presence across Montana.

Paper co-author Will Janousek said the western bumble bee is more commonly found in forested areas like in western Montana, but the species’ appearance in the grasslands of eastern Montana has declined by more than 51% compared to 37% in the west.

“The eastern half of the state also tends to get warmer during the summer months, and that warmer temperature coincides with lower occupancy or lower occurrence of the species,” Janousek said.

From 1998 to 2020, the bee’s presence decreased by 57% in the western and southwestern United States – Janousek points to high temperatures and drought, and other factors like pesticides and changes to forest and shrub cover.

Notably, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remained least affected of all the studied areas, with a decline of 15%.

According to the paper, pollinators like the western bumble bee save the U.S. agricultural industry an estimated $1.5 billion annually. Researchers project the bee could disappear from 44 to 100 percent of its range in the U.S. by the 2050s.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.