Bumble bee species in serious decline - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Bumble bee species in serious decline

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NORWICH, Vt. -

Summer squash is packed away in boxes at the Killdeer Farm in Norwich.  The healthy food is headed for Willing Hands, a non-profit that feeds those in need.  The farm is happy to help, but there is bad news facing this farm and others around the state. "It's terrible, it's terrible," said the farm's Chris Castles.

A two year study by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies has found that more than one-quarter of Vermont's bumble bee species have either vanished or are in serious decline.  Bees help pollinate squash, apples, berries and other crops grown in the Green Mountains. "Without them we will be in trouble.  Real trouble," Castles said.

Volunteers collected more than 10,000 bees throughout the entire state for the study. Researchers also looked at statistics from the University of Vermont that date back to the 1800's. "We found that some time in the 1990's, there was 3 to 5 species that look like they crashed," said VCE's Kent McFarland, who helped lead the study.  He says there are two main reasons for the decline.  One was the introduction of Europeans bees to North American farms that carried a parasite native bees could not fight off.  "If smallpox entered a new human population that had never seen it before, like what happened in the new world hundreds of years ago -- same idea," McFarland said.

Another cause -- the use of pesticides. "Overuse of pesticides or using pesticides at a bad time such as when something is flowering," McFarland said.

While the study specifically focused on 2,000 different sites in Vermont, biologists say the decline in the bee population is happening throughout North America. "This is definitely more than just a region-wide problem.  It is a continental problem," McFarland said.

For the last several years, the Killdeer Farm has hired a beekeeper to maintain a bee habitat on site. "He keeps his bees here to pollinate our fields and in return he gets the honey," Chris Castles said. And he says it has worked well -- similar to an insurance policy that ensures the crops get pollinated. "Without them we wouldn't be doing what we are doing," he said.

And according to the study, some species of bees are still thriving.  It may be a while before scientists know exactly what the impact will be with the ones that are not faring well.  "We don't know what we are missing when we lose a species like this until it is gone and we start seeing other things fail," McFarland said.

In the meantime McFarland hopes the study will raise awareness -- create a little buzz if you will -- about a species vital to Vermont and the rest of the country.

Click here to read the study.

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