In North America there are more than 5,000 species of native bees of which 60 kinds of bumblebees occupy habitats ranging from the Arctic Circle to the Sonoran Desert. Bumblebees, like the beleaguered honeybees, are in trouble; their populations are crashing. A three year study, headed up by the University of Illinois has documented four species of U.S. bumblebees (Bombus occidentalis, Bombus pensylvanicus, Bombus affinis and Bombus terricola) declining by up to 96 percent and that their geographic ranges have contracted from between 23 percent to 87 percent, some within just the past two decades.
The news is grim from the U.K. where three of the 25 British species of bumblebees are already extinct and at least half of the remainder shows serious declines of up to 70 percent, since the 1970s. Bumblebees are being found with high disease loads and low genetic diversity, meaning that they have less of a chance of fighting off any new pathogens or resistance to pollution. Even more distressing, it appears that bumblebees may be picking up some of the viruses known to afflict the domestic honeybees from shared flower pollen.
Bumblebees are crucial pollinators of — to name a few — tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, sunflowers, canola, rapeseed, chilies, peas, lentils, red clover Trifolium pratense and alfalfa. Their large size and loud rumble with their long tongues and high frequency buzz pollination or sonification, helps release pollen en masse from the flowers. They work tirelessly each day from dawn until after dusk. About 19,000 flowering plants on Earth rely upon this unique buzz pollination in order to reproduce.
Source: Dr Reese Halter | March 27, 2011
Story ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Feb 16, 2011 http://www.ajc.com/opinion/the-buzz-from-spring-839849.html