The researchers report that declining bumble bee populations have lower genetic diversity than bumble bee species with healthy populations and are more likely to be infected with Nosema bombi, an intracellular parasite known to afflict some species of bumble bees in Europe.
The new study appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We have 50 species of bumble bees in North America. We've studied eight of them and four of these are significantly in trouble," said University of Illinois entomology professor Sydney Cameron, who led the study. "They could potentially recover; some of them might. But we only studied eight. This could be the tip of the iceberg," she said.
The three-year study analyzed the geographic distribution and genetic diversity of eight species of bumble bees in the U.S., relying on historical records and repeated surveys of about 400 sites. The researchers compiled a database of more than 73,000 museum records and compared them with current sampling based on intensive national surveys of more than 16,000 specimens.
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