Pollinators | St. Louis Public Radio

Pollinators

Maryville University biologist Kyra Krakos studies flowers at the Shaw Nature Reserve.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Among the many ways rising global temperatures are changing the environment, from shrinking polar ice caps to rising sea levels, research in recent years has shown that climate change also is causing flowering plants and pollinating bugs to fall out of sync.

This summer, Maryville University biologist Kyra Krakos and her students are studying the effects of climate change on flowers and pollinating insects, particularly bumblebees, at the Shaw Nature Reserve about an hour outside St. Louis. Meteorologists have observed more erratic weather patterns over time, such as this year's mild winter, which has caused flowers to bloom at times when they shouldn't.

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen

When  a native bee received federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for the first time earlier this year, it drew an attention to a growing public concern.

Many  bee species in the United States have become threatened or have declined sharply in the last couple decades. Since native bees are crucial to pollinating crops, scientists are making a major push to keep track of them.

Researchers at Webster University and the Saint Louis Zoo are inviting residents to help the effort by leading a bee photo survey in Forest Park this Saturday. Images taken at the St. Louis Bee Blitz will help scientists better understand the abundance of various native species that live in the area.

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen

A buzzing bee may not sound like much to most people but to bee scientists, there’s a lot to learn from the noises bees make when they fly and pollinate flowers.

On Wednesday, researchers at Webster University, Lincoln University and the University of Missouri-Columbia released a study in the journal PLOS One that concludes that recording bees can help track pollinator activity. That could provide scientists with data to aid conservation of species that have experienced falling populations.

Declines in pollinating species have alarmed scientists, environmentalists and policymakers, since many crops depend on native wild bees.

The rusty patched bumble bee pollinates a flower.
Christy Stewart | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

An executive order from the Trump administration has frozen the process that, for the first time, would have given a bee species federal protection. 

The rusty-patched bumblebee would have been officially listed under the Endangered Species Act today. But, according to a notice from the Office of the Federal Register, the temporary freeze has delayed the effective date until March 21.

The rusty patched bumble bee pollinates a flower.
Christy Stewart | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the first time, federal wildlife authorities this week have sought protection for a bee species under the Endangered Species Act.

The rusty patched bumblebee was once easy to find in the Midwest and eastern United States. Since the 1990s, its numbers have dropped by 87 percent, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Like many wild native bee species in the country, the bee has declined due to pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change, which has affected flowers it depends on.

A metallic green sweat bee sits in a case among other species at Associate Professor Gerardo Camilo's Saint Louis University lab.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

In a community garden in central St. Louis, Saint Louis University biologist Gerardo Camilo walked methodically, scanning the plants while holding a butterfly net. Then, he stopped and stared intently at a patch of impatiens. 

He was pursuing a bee that was weaving in between the stems of the flowers. In one fell swoop, he swung the net down and clutched the net with a fist to trap the bee inside. He examined his captive with a quizzical expression. 

"Wow! I have never seen this in my life," Camilo said. "What the hell are you?"

Camilo and other scientists have found that bee populations are abundant and very diverse in urban areas, compared to rural areas, a finding that could help save endangered bees, important pollinators.