Alaska is not the most likely place to picture a buzzing bumble bee population. Little wonder, then, that researchers have been paying little attention to the bumble bees up north. A new study set out to close the knowledge gap.
Native bee pollination is critical to the maintenance of ecosystems in the agricultural areas of Alaska, and perhaps even more important for the local crops. To assess how the pollinators are faring and if conservation actions are needed, a research team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has now completed a two-year study on bumble bees in several agricultural areas in the region. The survey provides baseline data on species composition, distribution, seasonal biology and parasites to help understand reported patterns of bumble bee declines in North America.
A particular focus of the survey was the Western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis. Once considered one of the most common west coast bumble bee species, it is now declining in the Pacific Northwest. In Alaska, however, it proved to be a relatively abundant species in the areas studied. Unfortunately, the survey found both the endoparasite Nosema, and social parasites and nematodes in the Alaskan population of Bombus occidentalis.
Lead author Dr. Rehanon Pampell sees the survey as the first leg of a longer journey: "Additional research is needed to better understand the biology, geographical distribution, contribution of bumble bees to Alaska agriculture, and the possible effects of endo- and social parasites on bumble bees in the state," she said.
The Alaskan Bumble Bee
Alaskan bumble bees are intriguing creatures: They are so well adapted to their environment that they have been observed in temperatures as cold as -3.6°C, during snowfall, during the night, and above the tree line. Bumble bees are excellent pollinators, especially of Alaska berry species. Many of the berries, nuts, and seeds consumed by birds, mammals, and other insects, are a result of bumble bee pollination of native woody and herbaceous plants.
The study was picked up by ScienceDaily, a popular science news web site, showcasing international science news stories.
To read the article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150615132940.htm
And here is the link to the study: http://bdj.pensoft.net/articles.php?id=5085
Study title/authors: Derek Sikes, Rehanon Pampell, Alberto Pantoja, Patricia Holloway, Charles Knight, Richard Ranft.
Bumble Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombus spp.) of Interior Alaska: Species Composition, Distribution, Seasonal Biology, and Parasites.