Bee species go extinct

Vermont’s bumblebee populations are declining, according to a recent study conducted by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

“It’s bizarre,” Maxwell Stuart, a junior biology student said. “Bees are really important and nobody can figure out what’s happening to them.”

 The study, which was done by conservation biologist Kent McFarland, indicated that only about 12 of the original 17 bumble bee species that had been seen in Vermont over the years remain today.

“There hadn’t been much information gathered in Vermont about bumble bees,” McFarland said. “I worked with the insect collection at UVM quite a bit, and without that collection I wouldn’t have been able to do the study.”

McFarland explained that the main reason he wanted to conduct this study was because of the concern surrounding worldwide bee populations.

“Bee populations are declining worldwide,” he said. “So this study really sprang up because of that.”

Through this study, McFarland was able to determine that bee populations in Vermont were changing, and he found that some species had been lost altogether.

 “The rusty patch bumble bee used to have one of the largest populations in this region,” he said. “Students were able to find it constantly for insect collections like the one at UVM. Now it’s basically gone.”

 The decline in some bumble bee species is most likely due to pesticides, McFarland said.

“Farmers in Europe used bees to help pollinate their crops, and as a result, they saw a business opportunity to start farming bumble bees,” he said.  “The Common Eastern Bumble Bee was brought over to Europe for this business, but these bees were then sold back to the United States so farmers here could use the bees.”

 When the bees were brought back here from Europe, they also brought back foreign pesticides, McFarland said. Although these pesticides didn’t affect the bumble bees from Europe, they did harm the bumble bee populations back in the United States.  

 He added that the bumble bees from Europe can handle the pesticides, while species of bees here cannot.

“This is another example of an imported, exotic species wreaking havoc,” he said. “Bumble bees are really important pollinators.  Ecosystems could collapse if we can’t take better care of the pollinators.”