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Alpine Bees Adapting to New Rocky Mountain Climate


New MU research says bumblebees in the Alpine region of the Rocky Mountains might be adapting to climate change.

Research says the bees have been adapting shorter tongues to gather pollen. Bees can either be generalists or specialists. Specialists are bees with long tongues who gather pollen from long flowers. If a bee is a generalist it is adapting a shorter tongue and collecting pollen from all flowers in the region. The climate change in the Rocky Mountains has caused a shortage in long tube flowers creating a need for generalist bees.

The study was conducted by a research team at the University of Missouri-Columbia. It compared the statistical analysis from 1966-1980 to new research surveyed in 2012-2014. Jennifer Geib and Ricardo Holdo were both members of the research team who explored the Alpine regions of the Rocky Mountains in 2012 through 2014.

Holdo was in charge of mathematical workings on the projects and determining the amount of time it would take bees to obtain pollen from a flower. Each type of bees has both its benefits and disadvantages. “The advantage that specialist have is that they take less time to extract a reward from a long flower,” said Holdo. “Where a generalists takes longer because they have shorter tongues. But the advantage of a generalist is that they can exploit different kinds of flowers even though it takes them longer to extract a reward from a long flower.”

The adaptations of the bees was based specifically on the climate change in the Alpine area. The team focused on this area because of the historical archives on the area as well as the known climate change to the Western Rocky Mountains.

Geib hopes that more studies will be performed on bee species across the United States. “In general though we do need more monitoring efforts for bumblebees and their interactions with plants,” said Geib. “Either to look how they have changed or to establish a base line for comparison in future studies in another 40 or 50 years.”

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