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Flower declines have shrunk bee tongues, study claims

Flower declines have shrunk bee tongues, study claims
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Climate-related changes in flower diversity have resulted in a decrease in the length of alpine bumble bees-' tongues, a new study has found. These...

Climate-related changes in flower diversity have resulted in a decrease in the length of alpine bumble bees' tongues, a new study has found. These changes in tongue length are leaving these insects poorly suited to feed from and pollinate the deep flowers they were adapted to previously, researchers have found.


The results highlight how certain mutually beneficial ecological partnerships can be lost due to shifts in climate. Many co-evolved species have precisely matched traits; for example, long-tongued bumble bees are well adapted for obtaining nectar from deep flowers with long corolla tubes. Recent studies suggest long-tongued bumble bees are declining in number.

To better understand why, researchers from University of Missouri, Appalachian State University, University of Guelph and colleagues studied several high-altitude sites in Colorado where two species of long-tongued alpine bumble bee live. Using bumble bee specimens from 1966 through 1980, and from 2012 through 2014, the researchers measured changes in tongue length, noticing a significant shortening. Next, using archived bee specimens and field surveys of bumble bees and host plants, they examined possible mechanisms for this change. It was not a result of decreasing body size, competition from invaders, or co-evolution with flowers in the area, they said.

Instead, it is a result of warming summers, which reduced numbers of the deep flowers these species preferred, forcing the insects to be general foragers capable of feeding across remaining flowers, including many shallow flowers. The pattern seen here may predict future effects of climate change in other systems, the researchers said.
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