According to a comprehensive study of bumblebees in the US, the populations of four of the most common species have declined by 96% in the last few decades, and their geographic ranges have declined 23%-87% in the past twenty-odd years. And the shocking figures are not unique to the US; in the UK, three of 25 bumblebee species are already extinct, and half of the remaining species have shown population declines around 70%.
So what the hell is going on? Scientists blame lowered genetic diversity, meaning more susceptibility to disease, pathogens, pollution, and predators, which are working together to decimate bee populations around the globe. Other aggravating factors include changing habitats around cities and increased pesticide use.
And why are bees so important? Bees, moths, and hoverflies pollinate one-third of all the food that we eat. Fewer bees mean less pollination and lower yields, which means reduced food supply and agricultural income. Bees also pollinate wild plants, and are credited for pollinating 90% of the world's commercial plants. They are the building blocks of the food chain and support the lives of birds and other animals.
So what can you do to help? As scientists continue to understand the causes of the bumblebee decline, there are some things you can do today. Urban beekeeping is a great way to encourage population growth as well as pollinate your garden and produce homemade honey. It's not hard either. Check out Urban Beekeeping for Beginners to see how to get started. If beekeeping is not for you, fair enough, here's a simple rule of thumb to help preserve bee populations: steer clear of chemicals and pesticides in your yard. They don't like bees and bees don't like them.