Study: Climate Change Putting Sting On Non-Native Pollinators

Study: Climate Change Putting Sting On Non-Native Pollinators

A non-native oil bee buzzes around a flowering plant at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden.

A non-native oil bee buzzes around a flowering plant at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables.
Photo by Haydee Borrero, FIU

The extreme cold weather spell in January 2010 was certainly one to remember in Florida. The rare occurrence that lasted nearly two weeks and sent temperatures plunging as low as 35°F in Miami, not only was devastating to sensitive crops, but also had damaging effects on tropical bees in South Florida, according to a study led by researchers at Florida International University (FIU).

The cold weather calamity from six years ago was used by FIU biological sciences researchers as a unique opportunity to observe the impacts of such an extreme weather event on South Florida’s pollinators. What they found is that bees native to the subtropics, including Florida, weathered the cold snap. But non-native bees, recently introduced from tropical climates, were more sensitive to the colder temperatures. Many died, and their populations took three to four years to recover.
While most studies examining climate events focus on individual species, this study examined the impacts on multiple interacting species, providing a more realistic assessment of the potential impacts of climate change.

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“The findings show extreme cold spells are important climate change-related events that can have strong impacts on the distributions and abundances of tropical species,” said Jason Downing, lead author of the study and Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological Sciences. “Capturing the impacts of these rare extreme cold weather events, in addition to gradual warming trends, are necessary to best predict species responses to climate change in the future.”

Downing points out that with global warming trends, scientists expect frost lines to move poleward, possibly resulting in fewer extreme cold events in the subtropics. This could accelerate the expansion of some species from the tropics into temperate zones.

Immediately following the cold snap, native bees showed an increase in the number of visits to plants in the flowering season, indicating minimal impacts or a fast recovery. The non-native bees originated from Central America and were only recently introduced to Southeast Florida.

The study’s results were published recently in the journal Ecosphere.