Plight of the Bumble Bees: How shabby climate analyses and lax peer review promote a dreadful remedy

Guest essay by Jim Steele,

Director emeritus Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University and author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

In July 2015 the journal Science published Kerr et al’s Climate Change Impacts On Bumblebees Converge Across Continents. It was a woeful analysis hyped by the media. It did very little to further our understanding of the causes of bumblebee declines and more likely obscured the real problems. But it did illustrate why the public is becoming increasingly suspicious of “scientific claims” regards catastrophic climate change as well as demonstrating the inadequacy of the peer review process.

There were 4 major problems.

1) By employing a skewed statistical methodology and using inappropriate metrics, Kerr 2015 contradicted the biologists’ consensus (Goulson 2015) to argue bumblebees declines are independent of land use changes, pesticides and introduced pathogens.

2) Kerr 2015 results demonstrated that bees are not tracking their climate niche and are not responding to climate changes as predicted. Their data strongly suggests range shifts have been independent of climate change. Either the bees are insensitive to decades of climate change or climate change has had little impact on the bees’ critical microclimates. Nonetheless based on bad statistical modeling, they claimed range shifts were “independent of changing land uses or pesticides”, and then spun a climate catastrophe scenario by simply asserting the default cause must be climate change.

3) Kerr 2015 totally ignored the leading hypothesis that points to introduced pathogens as the cause of sudden declines and shifts in a select group of related North American Bees (Cameron 2014, The Xerces Society 2008). Kerr’s climate interpretation suggests transporting bumblebees to new northerly habitat, knowing it poses greater risks by spreading pathogens and further endangering susceptible species.

4) Kerr 2015 demonstrate that the journal Science strayed from objectivity into climate change advocacy. Science not only failed to properly edit this paper, they added an additional “news” commentary Bumblebees Aren’t Keeping Up With A Warming Planet and quote Kerr’s catastrophic view, “Climate change is crushing species in a vice”. The other global warming advocacy journal Nature ran a simultaneous apocalyptic story “Climate Change Crushes Bee Populationsencouraging wide spread media fear mongering.

1. Kerr 2015’s Inappropriate Statistical Methodology

The first statistical violation was Kerr’s categorization of time periods that prevented their models from accurately detecting the effects of land use change. They analyzed changes in bees’ latitudinal and thermal limits using records for 31 North American and 36 European species. To create a “pre-climate change” baseline for each species, they averaged 5, 10 or 20 extreme observations (depending on availability) for the time period 1901-1974. For example to determine a species’ most southerly latitude, they averaged the 5 most southerly records across the continent. However those averages would be dominated by the earliest decades and could hide any northward retractions that happened in the baseline’s later decades. To determine the bees’ warmest thermal limits, they likewise averaged 5 modeled temperatures from the warmest occupied sites. They similarly averaged observations restricted to 3 later 11-year periods of purported human caused climate change spanning 1975-1986, 1987-1998, and 1999-2010, and then compared those averaged results with the baseline averages.

However their asymmetrical categorization of a 74‑year baseline period vs. three 11‑year “climate change” periods is highly problematic. If their intent was to determine the timing of any significant shifts, their analysis should have compared equal decade-long periods. Instead because their technique averaged the most extreme southern latitudes, the baseline would easily be dominated by the earliest 20th century observations. Any range retractions that happened later during the baseline period would not be “statistically detected” until the 1975-1986 “climate change” period. Any editor or peer reviewer should have required a correction, knowing their asymmetrical categorization could cause such misleading results.

Many researchers from both North America and Europe (Fitzpatrick 2007) have documented that the period between 1940-1960 encompassed the greatest shift in agricultural expansion and intensity that has gravely affected bee populations. For example, studies in Illinois (Grixti 2009) determined that the greatest loss of bumblebee abundance, species richness and shifting ranges occurred between 1940-1960 due to agricultural intensification. After 1960, only minimal shifts occurred for the following 2 decades as agricultural expansion waned. But Kerr’s baseline categorization would not detect those range shifts until the 1975-86 period. The resulting statistical illusion of their model then created the incorrect perception that major range shifts were independent of those agricultural changes.

Kerr’s main paper only provided graphs for the final 1999-2010 period, so in my Figure 1 below, I have also added the 1975-1986 graphs from their supplemental data to also compare the recent decadal shifts. Oddly their results contradict their assertion that landscape restrictions were preventing bees from migrating, and therefore climate change was “crushing bees in a vice”. Their data clearly show half of the European species (green dots) were moving northward while most of the North American species (red dots) were shifting southward. In a NY Times’ interview, bumblebee expert Dr. Sydney Cameron also noted this lack of correspondence between assertions and evidence, diplomatically stating Kerr’s suggestion of thwarted northward migration was “a surprising conclusion given the data.” Clearly the bees are not caught in any such vice. The average shift in latitudinal positions was simply contradicting global warming theory.

Second if the 1940-1960s land use changes were the major driving factor, instead of climate change, we would expect dramatic range shifts in the 1975-1986 period, but only minor range shifts between 1975 and 2010. In contrast if climate change was the driver, we would expect increasing range shifts between 1975 and 2010 as purported climate change intensified. The data does not support a climate change interpretation.

The 2 graphs on Figure 1’s left (A’s) illustrate shifts in each species’ average extreme northern latitude, while the 2 graphs on the right (C’s), illustrate the change in their southern extremes. The X-axis represents the species latitudinal extremes in terms of distance (kilometers) from the equator during the base-line period. (Figure 2 helps the reader visualize the geographic location for those distances.) The Y-axis represents the species latitudinal deviation from the baseline period. A positive number means the species’ extreme latitude shifted northward and a negative number means it shifted southward. The dashed line at “0” represents the 1901-1974 base line latitude. Species that have not shifted their latitudinal margins will be located on that dashed lines.

For example, I added blue arrows to highlight that one European species’ northern-most latitude, originally located about 6400 km north of the equator (X-axis), had already shifted northwards by 1000 km (Y-axis) by the 1975‑period. Assuming the second arrow points to the same species, there was no further shift through the 1999-2010 period, suggesting no effect from recent climate change. Readers should also note that a majority of the species on both continents had retracted their northern limit southwards by the 1975-1986 period, again the opposite of what global warming predicts. By 1999-2010, half the species still exhibited ranges that had retracted southwards, although there was a slight increase in species that expanded northward.


The graphs on Figure 1’s right side represent shifts in the species most southerly margins. Again the bees are shifting differently on each continent, suggesting regional drivers, not global climate change. Because Kerr’s graphs have a different scale, I added a blue line to highlight any northerly retraction exceeding 400 km. By the 1975-period (top right), nearly all the North American species (red dots) had already retracted their southern range northward to some degree. By the 1999-2010 period, the greatest North American retraction remained at 1000 km, while 3 species expanded their range southward, again contradicting a global warming interpretation. The remaining North American latitudinal shifts are not noticeably different between 1975 and 2010. Furthermore, it should be noted that any retractions in the southeast USA are probably not linked to global warming because most of that area has been deemed a “warming hole” with a 20th century cooling trend for maximum temperatures (see Fig 13 Menne 2009).

In Europe (green dots), half the species had expanded southward by the 1975-1986 period again contradicting global warming theory. By the 1999-2010 period more species began retracting northwards while the 2 most northerly species move southward retracing their earlier retractions. Because some declining species have shifted northwards while others shifted southward, most European researchers had rejected the hypothesis that climate change has been driving declining bee populations. (Willliams 2007)

Unfortunately from Kerr’s results, we cannot determine which dot represents which species, and thus we are prevented from using additional research that might elucidate why an individual species shifted its range when another species did not. Meta-analyses such as this only create average trends from a lumped set of species but typically obscure the variety of confounding factors that may be driving these diverse and complex range shifts. Yet such meta-analyses are often the preferred method for researchers advocating climate change disruption because they assume the variety of confounding factors cancel out, leaving only a climate change footprint (Dr. Singer, personal communication) A problematic IPCC meta-analysis is discussed here.


In addition to skewed temporal categories, Kerr 2015 used an inappropriate metric to dismiss land use changes. Kerr compared recent satellite data with past characterizations of the landscapes to determine changes in cropland and pasture extent. But extent, or acreage, is not the only land use factor that could impact bees. The major factor is the loss of flowers.

Due to cheaper synthetic fertilizers, many croplands no longer plant crops of bee-nourishing alfalfa to rotate with crops of wind-pollinated corn or wheat. Planting alfalfa had partially offset the loss of flowers when native grasslands were cultivated. Additionally pastures and grasslands are managed to reduce insect pollinated flowers and promote more wind‑pollinated grasses.

Furthermore methods for producing silage have increasingly replaced traditional hay‑making. Traditional hay‑making requires a good stretch of dry weather that lowers the hay’s water content, so mowing typically occurs in late summer. In contrast silage fermentation requires greater water content than hay, so fields are mowed earlier and sometimes more often. Earlier mowing removes nourishing flowers so bee species that emerge later in the season from “hibernation” are critically impacted (Fitzpatrick 2007). Additionally wind-pollinated corn has increasingly become a major source of silage replacing alfalfa and soybean.

These agricultural practices have increased production over the past few decades without cultivating more land, so those land use changes would not be detected as changes in cropland or pasture “extent”. But those changes most certainly impact bees. Again any editor or peer-reviewer familiar with the plight of the bumblebees should have been aware that “extent” was likely a meaningless metric. Yet by using the “extent” metric, Kerr’s models incorrectly asserted that landscape changes had no impact, contradicting a wealth of research demonstrating a heavy toll by landscape changes.

Still Kerr schizophrenically embraced landscape changes to help explain why so many bee species had contradicted climate change theory by shifting to lower elevations (Figure 3 below). Bees that moved to higher elevations were touted as confirmation of climate change induced shifts. But to dismiss the contradictory evidence, Kerr 2015 nebulously suggested global warming could increase forest growth at higher elevations and that resulting landscape change could eliminate bee habitat thus forcing bees to lower levations. But that begs the question of why half the bees still migrated to higher elevations. Reforestation may eliminate some warm sunny bee habitat, but in Europe the dominant cause of reforestation has been the abandonment of marginal farmlands (Gehrig-Fasel 2007). Furthermore the downward shift in elevation seen in Europe’s high latitude bee species is consistent with Scandinavian tree ring data that suggests temperatures have been cooler since the 1950s (Esper 2012). In agreement with “cooling” tree rings, many butterflies in Finland that had expanded northward during peak warming of during the 1930s to 50s, have also retreated southward. (Poyry 2009).


In North America, many bee species have also moved to lower elevations in the most recent decades (Figure 3) and this is consistent with shifts to lower elevations by several other species. In the United States vegetation in the Sierra Nevada has been moving down‑slope (Crimmins 2011). Montane butterfly populations that Parmesan claimed had gone extinct due to global warming have now returned and there is no longer a statistical shift to higher elevations (discussed here). A high percentage of newly discovered pika populations have been observed at much lower elevations than had been observed during the 1920s (discussed here). And mirroring bumblebees’ shifts, 20% of California’s bird species have moved upslope, while 20% moved down‑slope while most have not shifted at all during the 20th century (Tingsley 2012).

2. Bumble Bees Move Independently of Climate Change


Assuming that species are in equilibrium with their environment, ecologists infer a species’ temperature tolerances based on the most extreme temperatures throughout their range and then construct a bioclimatic envelope. However the usefulness of bioclimatic envelopes has been increasingly debated (Hampe 2004) and Kerr’s data demonstrates why. Theory predicts that if a habitat warms or cools, species must shift in order to remain within their temperature envelope’s boundaries. In Kerr’s graph below (Figure 4), the dashed line, at zero on the Y-axis, represents each species’ baseline limit for cold temperature tolerance (Fig. 4’s graphs on left, B’s), and for warmth tolerance (graphs on right, D’s).

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If a species’ range tracked its thermal limits, its representative dot would sit on the dashed line. Any dot above that line means they have retreated to warmer habitat. Any dot below the dashed line means the species retreated to cooler habitat. The X-axis represents the species thermal limit determined by the base line period. For example, for species’ extreme cold limits, several species persisted in regions experiencing winter extremes of -10°C during the base line period (X-axis). But during all the later periods, the coldest temperatures experienced by most species were 2 to 6 degrees warmer, (-8 to -4°C). So the bees are said to be lagging climate change because they are remaining in warmer regions.

Regards the bees’ extreme warm limits, the opposite is happening for most species. Nearly all of North America’s species (red) retracted their range by 1975 and inhabit much cooler regions than required by their bioclimatic envelope. Those bees now inhabit regions where maximum temperatures are 1 to 12 degrees cooler than their baseline period. In contrast, many European species expanded into warmer regions although the majority also retracted to cooler areas. With few species sitting on the dashed line, the data clearly shows most bee species are not tracking climate change and have shifted their ranges independently of calculated thermal limits. An alternative interpretation would argue the baseline observations never accurately defined the bioclimatic envelope. Whatever the case, clearly factors other than climate were forcing bees to alter their thermal ranges.



3. Failure to Address Pathogen Spillover Hypothesis

In North America a few closely related species in the same subgenus began a rapid decline in the late 90s. Abundance declined by up to 96% and geographic ranges contracted by 23‑87%, mostly within the last 20 years (Cameron 2011). Species once designated as abundant or common, declined to being rare or absent in just 7 to 10 years. In addition to the rapid decline, only certain species were affected while others remained abundant. So many researchers rejected climate change as a causative factor and suggested the importation of a novel pathogen was the likely cause (Thorp 2008). Commercially grown bumblebees were being transported around the world, and in the late 90s North American native bees, were reared for commercial purposes in European facilities and then re-introduced to America. Those species are believed to have been infected by a novel pathogen that they introduced to North America. One species, Bombus occidentalis that widely inhabited western North America, began a sudden sharp decline at the same time commercially raised B. occidentalis populations in greenhouses were also exhibiting declines due to the parasite Nosema bombi. Shortly thereafter two other closely related bee species began to rapidly decline. By 2010, over 60 top bee biologists petitioned the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to regulate the commercial bumblebee industry to ensure transported bees were disease free.

Although the specific strain of pathogen driving these observed declines has not been determined with full certainty, there has been growing support for the pathogen hypothesis as declining species are observed to harbor heavier pathogen loads than stable bee populations (Cameron 2011, Szabo 2012, Colla 2006, Malfi 2014).

Understanding and preventing the spread of deadly disease should be a major societal focus because it severely affects all species. Introduced pathogens wreaked havoc in the Americas ever since Europeans brought smallpox to the western hemisphere and decimated Native American populations. More recently, an introduced chytrid fungus has inflicted a wave of global amphibian extinctions. An introduced European fungus is now decimating eastern USA bats. In the 80s, scientists were transporting the African Clawed Frog around the world to use in pregnancy testing and embryological studies. The African Clawed Frog harbors the deadly chytrid but is unaffected by it and so served as a carrier. As the fungus was inadvertently spread to new environments, susceptible species like Costa Rica’s Golden Toad and other closely related species rapidly went extinct. While ecologists embarked on efforts to minimize the spread of the disease and save the most vulnerable amphibian species, one of the IPCC’s specially selected biologists, Alan Pounds, denigrated those efforts because he falsely believed the extinctions were a result of catastrophic climate change (discussed here). He oddly argued that by blaming the pathogen, scientists were redirecting the public’s attention from addressing a speculative CO2 climate catastrophe. But Pounds’ remedy, reducing our carbon footprint, would never have stopped the spreading disease, nor saved a single frog and CO2 advocates were hindering the development of real solutions. Likewise controlling our carbon footprint will do precious little to remedy the plight of the bumblebees.

Not only does Kerr 2015 completely ignore the devastating impacts of introduced pathogens, their climate change remedy argues for transporting species northward into habitats where global warming models suggest species should have shifted. In contrast, in a NY Times interview, bumblebee expert Dr. Sydney Cameron took issue with Kerr’s suggestion that we should intervene with “assisted migration”, because that remedy risks spreading pathogens.

Dr. James Strange added. “I did not come away convinced that climate change is causing these movements.” Strange also worries that Kerr 2015 might cause people to blame climate change entirely for bee population destruction and ignore potential factors such as parasites, pesticides and habitat destruction. “There’s a bit of me that’s nervous someone will pick this up and say ‘They figured it out: It’s climate change,’ ” Dr. Strange said. “But really, we haven’t figured it out yet.”

Indeed Dr. Strange should be concerned. If there is anything we have learned from the Golden Toad extinctions, Edith’s Checkerspot extirpations, or the Emperor Penguins, advocacy for CO2 caused catastrophic climate change has blinded people from all walks of life to the more urgent conservation issues.

Jim Steele is author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism



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Eustace Cranch
July 23, 2015 5:58 am

“Bumblebee” is one word.
The photo is a honeybee.

Reply to  Eustace Cranch
July 23, 2015 6:52 am

The layman term is “bumblebee” but the entomologist’s jargon is “bumble bee.” See:
Since Mr Steele is an environmentalist, I’d expect he uses the entomologist’s form and not the lay form.

Reply to  Arsten
July 23, 2015 7:49 am

Indeed there are 2 versions. Throughout the essay I used the “proper” form bumblebee. I chose the separate words for the title to emphasize Bumble.

Reply to  Arsten
July 23, 2015 8:24 am

Isn’t this is an entomologist’s etymology issue?

Evan Jones
Reply to  Arsten
July 23, 2015 6:42 pm

It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is Balder and dash. — Mencken

Reply to  Eustace Cranch
July 23, 2015 7:04 am

Perhaps the photo was changed after your comment, but the current photo is NOT a Honeybee

Reply to  mastewart905
July 23, 2015 8:25 am

The original photo was indeed changed, it was from our stock selection chosen from searching “bee” during formatting, and not a fault of the author. It was changed a few minutes after publication to the correct picture.

Reply to  Eustace Cranch
July 23, 2015 7:57 am

That present photo is a Bumble bee or some native bee, it not the european of african honey bee, the bees I call and have been referred to as honey bees do not have that much “hair” on them to the most part european or african honey bee most of it “hair is on the legs and that is for carrying pollen. There is a possibility the photo is one of the many native bees here in North America not the introduced honey bee we use to collect honey which it is not a native spices. If you wish and if I was at home I could post several shots of africanized honey bees since I live in the desert southwest and that is what has taken over, they are aggressive nasty little beast, fortunately I am able to take their warnings when I am hiking so I have not had a problem with them. when they land on you and head butt you it time to turn around and go a different direction. The native bee in the desert southwest are very interesting their population peaks in early june the height of the cactus blooming, they also are a solitary bee and do not live in hives. When you hike that time of year the desert is alive with their humming.

Juan Slayton
Reply to  Eustace Cranch
July 23, 2015 9:00 am

As long as the pedants are caucusing, I might as well be sociable. I am pleased to learn that the bees are upright insects that can not be corrupted by climate change:
Kerr: Climate change is crushing species in a vice”.
Steele: Clearly the bees are not caught in any such vice.

Reply to  Juan Slayton
July 23, 2015 11:14 am

Juan there are two acceptable spellings vise and vice. I used the one quoted from the authors. I suspect vice is more commonly used in Canada

Juan Slayton
Reply to  Juan Slayton
July 23, 2015 1:00 pm

Hi Jim,
Yeah, I figured you probably had pasted Kerr’s spelling. Can’t say I was aware of UK spelling variation there. Learn something every day…
: > )

Evan Jones
Reply to  Juan Slayton
July 23, 2015 6:44 pm

Have they considered that it is crushing species in a virtue?

July 23, 2015 6:23 am

Thank you Dr Steele. One masterly post follows another today. If only hotbeds of self righteous climate change hysteria such as the Guardian would publish these. Instead, the readers are fed an unremitting diet of alarmism by uncritical reporters, activist scientists and paid propagandists, orchestrated by an Editorial team that knows full well that a good ‘man made catastrophe’ story will sell copy to its gullible Green Left readership. Very sad.

Gerry, England
Reply to  Old'un
July 23, 2015 6:52 am

Not that the loss-making Guardian actually has that many readers and they certainly don’t read it to be informed, just to have their prejudices reinforced.

Reply to  Gerry, England
July 23, 2015 9:14 am

Yes, they absolutely wallow in their hysteria.

July 23, 2015 6:27 am

Bees are dissapearing due to global warming. 4 out of the 6 months this year are the warmest.

John West
Reply to  JOhn
July 23, 2015 6:49 am

So, an insignificant amount of warming is threatening bees that have been around for 100 million years through times much warmer than today as well as much cooler?

James Bull
Reply to  John West
July 23, 2015 10:50 pm

In my glass house I have some cacti in the sandy soil of which a small bee burrows and builds a capsule (usually of sections of my rose leaves) to lay it’s eggs, the temp in there ranges between 10 dec C at night to 40 odd on a sunny day the door is left open most of the summer and auto vents open as it warms up. If the bees found the temp not to their liking I’m sure they would nest elsewhere. I also have had Bumblebee nests under the log stack which were great to watch as they bumbled about.
James Bull

Ex-expat Colin
Reply to  John West
July 24, 2015 12:51 am

West..I have a bee doing the same in my greenhouse. Its entered through the bottom slot of a small pot holding a cactus. Temps are between 10 and 35 deg C here in the greenhouse (UK). Its a leaf cutter bee that uses rose leaves to seal off its chamber. Apparently that leaf does not have veins and is preferred?
The handwringing about bee loss here in UK is always on the honey bee. The Bumble bee is a non hiving bee and is termed a solitary bee. Some 250 solitary species exist and don’t forget the multitude of wasps and different flies such as hover flies. I think its more to do with commercial than anything else…honey!
Cultivation of solitary bees in the USA and Canada is big I note. Here in the UK its about handwringing over honey bees which are a minority bee. If you want an orchard fertilised cultivate wild solitary bees..not unreliable and dangerous honey bees. Wild bees are not interested in our beer or sweet things and have a low power sting.

Ex-expat Colin
Reply to  John West
July 24, 2015 12:52 am

meant @James Bull…sorry!

Ernest Bush
Reply to  JOhn
July 23, 2015 6:51 am

Only in the minds of those who have manipulated the surface weather databases is 4 out of 6 months this year the warmest.
Bumblebees exist even in the desert southwest.. They go buzzing through our yard on days when the temperatures reach over a hundred. Therefore, they are hardly that sensitive to hot days. In fact, the Colorado Desert has quite a large bee population. A bee swarm is a frightening thing to witness if you don’t have shelter as it comes near. I say this from personal experience.

Gerry, England
Reply to  JOhn
July 23, 2015 6:56 am

A neighbour commented to me when I expressed surprise that his shallow pond was home to a Great Crested Newt since they are said to need a water depth of at least 3 feet that ‘well, the newts don’t read the nature books so don’t know they shouldn’t be there’. Bees don’t read the fiddled temperature charts so aren’t aware of ‘global warming’ and just carry on regardless.

Pamela Gray
Reply to  JOhn
July 23, 2015 7:06 am

JOhn, you have only posited the “because”. But on a science blog commenters are challenged to go further, IE “Because why?”. There are reasons why. Weather parameters set up these warmer conditions. What are those weather parameters? I assume you have the necessary meteorological acumen and have yourself listed those weather parameters so I leave it up to you to support your argument, and not just by repeating temperature records or by claiming global warming.

Reply to  JOhn
July 23, 2015 7:07 am

Bees are having large losses in their artificially increased population (the farming and apiarist sector) because idiots who’s parents should have died of STDs are farming them in clusters of tens to hundreds of hives so close that their normal residential seclusion can no longer protect them from cross contamination due to workers of the hives returning to the WRONG hive.
That’s it. Do you know WHY I know that’s totally it you fool? Bees regulate the temperature of their hive and have no trouble at all operating at temperatures in excess of even the worst predictions of a decade ago.
Whats killing bees is people feeding them corn syrup and making them catch infestations, infections and parasites from each other.

Reply to  JOhn
July 23, 2015 7:55 am

Bees respond to local temperature – alwayL. Using a global average chimera that averages temperatures from El Nino and Arctic ocean heat ventilation along with deforested lands and urban heat islands and adjusted temperature data would be most foolish. If you truly want to understand what affects wildlife, you must understand how they were affected locally. Anyone using a global average to explain local events should be a red flag that they are totally incompetent.

Reply to  JOhn
July 23, 2015 10:38 am

read the article John. Your post is breathtaking in its numbing lack of curiosity about the world around you and your apparent allegiance to some what some authority tells you how it is.

Reply to  JOhn
July 23, 2015 7:24 pm

Really? Strange how I have thousands of BUMBLEBEES this year, after a warmer than average winter and very warmer and dryer than average spring and summer. Those happy bumblebees love the clover I leave in my lawn (very large). They are the first to emerge to pollinate my fruit trees. In the years they are scarce, I have less fruit, other years they are numerous, like this year and lots of fruit. I’d say the cold has more negative affect on their numbers than heat. That’s called observation. My observation. Some pay attention to real life. But, I assume the bubble gum has your bottom side stuck to a chair…not to be condescending or rude of course. It’s similar to assuming everything at Accuweather is a fact. Try no-stick bubble gum.

Kelvin Vaughan
Reply to  JOhn
July 24, 2015 1:33 am

There are so many more bees this year around here where I live in the English Fens they are fighting for places on the wild flowers. Hardly saw a bee last year.

July 23, 2015 6:48 am

Sorry, I have to clear up my ignorance:
I typically take “retreating” to mean “moving back from” especially in context of a fixed or mobile landmark (retreated from the woods or retreated from the enemy). But the particular description for Figure 4 as “Any dot above that line means they have retreated to warmer habitat. Any dot below the dashed line means the species retreated to cooler habitat.” confuses me.
So is this environmentalist jargon and “retreating” is synonymous with “migrating” in this context?

Reply to  Arsten
July 23, 2015 8:05 am

Arsten, The terms used regards range shifts can be confusing and depends on the context. Retreating or retracting refers to movement from the periphery towards the center of a species range. Often a range shift implies an actual migration, but other authors have used ranges shifts to mean a greater net rate of extinction within the range boundary, so only the statistical center moves. With advocates of climate change who believe global warming will cause species to retreat from the warmest edges of their range and expand into cooler regions, they use the term retract or retreat in reference to a warmer isotherm.

Reply to  jim Steele
July 23, 2015 9:51 am

Thank you!
So they are retreating from their historical range into a certain climate segment (eg ‘to warmer habitat’ or ‘to cooler habitat’) that is within that range. That clears up the language semantics nicely.

Steve Case
July 23, 2015 6:55 am

without consulting the net, the photo looks like a bumble bee to me, and flowers hence bees as we know them weren’t around 100 mm years ago.

Eustace Cranch
Reply to  Steve Case
July 23, 2015 7:37 am

The original photo was a honeybee. It was changed.

Reply to  Eustace Cranch
July 23, 2015 7:56 am

Yes I neglected to send a bumblebee photo along with the essay so a mistake was made but it hasnow been remedied.

Greg Roane
Reply to  Steve Case
July 23, 2015 7:51 am

Angiosperms (flowering plants) and Bees are a creation of the Middle-Late Cretaceous through coevolution, appearing roughly 135 million years ago – at least according to the Smithsonian.

July 23, 2015 6:56 am

Assuming that species are in equilibrium with their environment, ecologists infer a species’ temperature tolerances based on the most extreme temperatures throughout their range and then construct a bioclimatic envelope.

There we go again, people assuming equilibrium in systems which are patently not.

July 23, 2015 7:00 am

Plenty of bumblebees and carpenter bees here. Even a good number of honeybees.
But, tragically, I see hardly any mosquitoes…

Reply to  beng135
July 23, 2015 7:26 am

“But, tragically, I see hardly any mosquitoes…”
tragically? We have plenty of mosquitoes here in Michigan, stop in some evening if you miss them.

Reply to  Paul
July 23, 2015 9:33 am

With the extra moisture this year there’s a bumper crop. right now it’s mostly the house mosquito here where the Illinois and Mississippi rivers meet. They are so small that I “hardly see any”, but I sure do see where they’ve bit me. I have a dragonfly wings noisemaker that came with a bug zapper and oddly enough, when I’m around my lake the dragonflies hang around me and the mosquitos stay clear. The blackflies (buffalo gnats) are more determined though, and it’s best to hang a vanilla auto air freshener from the back of your ball cap. They should be gone by this time around here but we’ve had no hot and dry yet.

Reply to  Paul
July 23, 2015 9:36 am

Just curious, Beng135, where do you hail from?

Reply to  Paul
July 24, 2015 12:20 pm

Dawtgtomis, I’m in western MD.
Alot of rain June/July, but the area is well-drained, and the nearby stream patrolled by mosquito-larvae-eating bluegills and trout.

Reply to  beng135
July 23, 2015 2:17 pm

come to maine, you can see them and our state bird the blackfly swarming you.

Tom O
July 23, 2015 7:03 am

I suppose I should “nitpick” the article for the occasional typo as some do, but the fact is the truth of the article is too strong to look for typos to judge it by.
I can’t agree more with the statement “advocacy for CO2 caused catastrophic climate change has blinded people from all walks of life to the more urgent conservation issues.” .And that is always the case. Real science takes the back seat and stays underfunded because the “glamor science” of the advocate takes the spotlight away. This “caterwauling” catastrophism of AGW has done and continues to do more damage to the environment, diversity of life, and human development by suppressing common knowledge of what is truly happening than “climate change” as advocated, could ever do.

July 23, 2015 7:03 am

I suspect the term “Pangenerational Multi-decadal Hive Migration” may come into play this year.

July 23, 2015 7:38 am

Did Climate Change kill the Atlanta Braves? I would expect Dr. Kerr’s next project to prove this….

Reply to  Steve
July 23, 2015 4:01 pm

The Braves moved south from Milwaukee, which would be more evidence that contradicts global warming theory. 😉

July 23, 2015 7:40 am

Bumblebees are not Honeybees, but both are in danger. Not from we, the people – using fossil fuels, but most probably from multinational corporations pushing neonicotinoid pesticides.
Guess which gets the free pardon?

Jim W
Reply to  Tim
July 23, 2015 12:38 pm

Having a couple of honey bee hives myself, I’ve been very interested in the neonicinoid issue. As the article you linked to says, they can be toxic to bees. But when used as seed coatings, it turns out the bees don’t get enough to do harm. The biggest pesticide threat to bees are the idiots who spray too much or on windy days, or without regard to fallout on the bees. I know I’ve got to cover my bees when the mosquito sprayer comes around, but our mosquito people have a list to call so beekeepers know when to cover.

Brett Keane
Reply to  Tim
July 23, 2015 1:58 pm

Tim, my pathology colleagues say not. My own analysis leans towards introduced diseases, and the old problem of harsh winters and/or poor summers. The climate factors are the opposite of the warmista claims, but they are blinded. Bees can be expected to adapt and defeat these challenges (for the umpteenth time). But, as suggested above, managment practices for the ‘tame’ sector need to adapt too. Your quoted magazine will lead you astray because it is based on hippy-type beliefs.

Reply to  Brett Keane
July 24, 2015 7:39 pm

I wish I could reference the study, but I can’t. A recent study suggested that neonicotinoids don’t kill bees, but weaken their immune systems so they are more susceptible to disease. That fits with the suggestion in this article. Weakened immune systems and an introduced pathogen have been issues elsewhere.
I don’t know if this is a sound reference as it talks about honey bees but did see a study from this year recently, just don’t know where.
Oh – here it is:
The suggestion was to change the “taste” to keep bees from having a taste preference for the neonicotinoids.

July 23, 2015 8:21 am

I live on the same property as my brother-in-law, who is an avid apiarist with about 20 hives. The property is on the spine of a small ridge, so there are magnificent views of both the ocean and the mountains. But the best seat in the house is the “bee chair”, a comfy outside chair placed about a meter from a row of hives. I have a magnificent pair of Zeiss binoculars that are able to close focus. I spend many hours in that chair with my binoculars, zooming in on the bees’ busy-ness. Great fun.
They are fascinating creatures at so many levels.

Sam The First
Reply to  Max Photon
July 24, 2015 3:15 am

They always were. Book 4 of Vergil’s ‘Georgics’ was probably written in 29BC

Sam The First
Reply to  Sam The First
July 24, 2015 3:20 am

VIRGIL dammit. Excuse typo: ME brain fog.
And I just an hour ago had the pest man round to kill off a nest of bees in a high up beam of my Tudor building, before scaffolding goes up; I’m almost as sad and agitated as the poor bees but there was no other solution given where they were.

Gerald Machnee
July 23, 2015 8:37 am

Thanks Jim. Great work.

July 23, 2015 8:38 am

Jim –
Nice analysis as usual.
But I’d like to know your opinion on just HOW GOOD the raw data is. Bumblebees are notoriously difficult to identify to species and in most countries the number of observers competent to write down a species sighting is pitifully small – probably little more than a handful of people. So how good are the massive graphs of spots that you discuss? My guess is that in 1910 there were more real bee observers – anorakish amateurs most – than there are today: a few paid researchers and a lot of very willing but limited amateurs going around counting them against a shortcut identification card. Though I’ll accept that there is acute temperature sensitivity in many hymenoptera I wouldn’t put much store on any meta-analysis across species until I’d checked out very closely the story on a number of individual species.

Reply to  mothcatcher
July 23, 2015 9:43 am

mothcatcher excellend queston.
I believe presence data is fairly accurate over the past 150 years. Species have indeed been misidentified but “old-time” researchers pinned and labeled their specimens so those locations and identifications can be verified or corrected.
In contrast, absence data, abundance data, and warm and cold limits should be questioned. Hundred meter changes in elevation should be questioned. Range boundaries are geometrically complex. Depending what side of a mountain I surveyed or what microclimates I surveyed elevation may easily change by a 100 meters. LIkewise over the course of a decade the modeled warm limits can change by 10 degrees as illustrated Kerr 2015

July 23, 2015 8:50 am

John great article: I wonder just how many people “just know” that the stress on bees and amphibians are from trace chemical pollution cause by “unnatural” manufacturing practices or climate change. I think that the most revealing part of your article is the section on farming practices and the shift to “green” silage. The rule of unintended consequences just rules doesn’t it? Again great article!

July 23, 2015 8:55 am

One could simply say that the number of hives in Canada is at a record.
23 Jul 2015The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition)MARGARET WENTE
” Despite those headlines about mass die-offs and and killer pesticides, the number of honeybee colonies is at a record high. Last year, according to Statistics Canada, nearly 700,000 honeybee colonies produced $200-million worth of honey. Bee survival rates have rebounded even in Ontario, which was hard hit by unusually high winter die-offs.”

July 23, 2015 8:59 am

“Indeed Dr. Strange should be concerned. If there is anything we have learned from the Golden Toad extinctions, Edith’s Checkerspot extirpations, or the Emperor Penguins, advocacy for CO2 caused catastrophic climate change has blinded people from all walks of life to the more urgent conservation issues.”
Yes, the greatest generation is being followed by the gravest generation.
This period in time will be hopefully looked back on as the “big detour on the road to human enlightenment”.

Sam The First
Reply to  Dawtgtomis
July 24, 2015 3:26 am

Given current educational policies (Gates’s ‘Core Curriculum’ etc) which seem geared to prevent the development of individual thinking, I don’t envisage much improvement in the next generation!
Maybe they will take the trouble to educate themselves.

July 23, 2015 9:16 am

Around here in “Hooterville” (rural Illinois) we have more trouble keeping chickens than we do bees. The neighbors that are bee keepers tell me the hives are doing fairly well despite all that makes bee survival difficult. They mostly are worried about colder winters the newer high speed mowers. As more folks build on small plots out here the white clover that’s in the lawn attracts thousands. If you rip through your lawn at 12 mph on a zero-turn with a 5 ft. deck you will kill a lot of bees, frogs, toads, turtles etc. I have heard them say that they suspect this is their highest loss.

July 23, 2015 11:02 am

Some years ago I was brush-hogging the pasture below the house and looked back after I had turned the corner. I saw smoke rolling up out of the cut weeds and turned back to see if I had accidentally dropped something off the tractor and started a fire. Turned out it was a swarm of bumblebees boiling up out of their hole in the ground where I had just mowed. Left that part of the field for another day.
I bet my brush hog impacted more bees than climate change has.

Reply to  OK S.
July 23, 2015 11:18 am

Happened to think that some may not know what a “brush hog” is. This is one (not mine, but I kind of liked this old Farmall):

Reply to  OK S.
July 23, 2015 2:21 pm

used one of them as well as sickle mower on old farmall cub too.

July 23, 2015 11:43 am

Not to mention that bumble bees can freely cross between the U.S. and Mexico without a passport. Kerr 2015 couldn’t even properly describe their research area.

July 23, 2015 11:59 am

While trimming the bushes alongside my house this spring, I watched a fully pollen laden bumble bee land and scurry into a hole next to my poorly sealed space heater.
So, now I’m torn between using chemical warfare on the nest, or just letting them be.
By bumble bee I mean the big furry ones that you can pet (if you dare).
So far, it is live and let live.

Reply to  u.k.(us)
July 23, 2015 2:19 pm


While trimming the bushes alongside my house this spring, I watched a fully pollen laden bumble bee land and scurry into a hole next to my poorly sealed space heater.
So, now I’m torn between using chemical warfare on the nest, or just letting them be.
By bumble bee I mean the big furry ones that you can pet (if you dare).

That is almost certainly NOT a “bumble bee” but a very dangerous “carpenter bee” … Tunnels into the wood (drilling about a 1/2 dia hole 4-6 inches deep into the wood, and lays an egg, then food, then another egg, then food… The wall ends up being destroyed by the holes. Once emptied, other critters get into the hole over the next winter, and cause more damage underneath.
Kill ’em.

Reply to  RACookPE1978
July 23, 2015 3:54 pm

Thanks for the thoughts, but I might be ahead of ya ?
I had some carpenter bees drilling into the eaves of my shed, I just filled the holes (with the bees inside) with some left-over silicon sealant. Seems like problem solved ?
I’ll definitely take your comment to heart, and consider the chemical option.

Sam The First
Reply to  RACookPE1978
July 24, 2015 3:34 am

That makes me feel a lot better about killing off the bees this morning, which have nested in a large hole in a high beam of my famous Tudor building. The man who did the deed told me they quite often burst through the wall indoors…

July 23, 2015 12:17 pm

Years ago (about 30) when I moved to this particular area of Canada, Edmonton, the surrounding farmers planted total sections (240 acres) in rape seed. The last 5 years they have been planting mustard. I can go to any number within a 1/2 hours drive, and whether rape seed,or mustard,or clover,they all have beehives set up,and delicious honey. They have an interesting experiment going on right in the city of a million people, backyard beehives. Can’t wait to see how that turns out, what with the yellow yards from dandelions, but that flower only flowers during late spring/early summer. Too early for the bees? And Mr.Steele. In this part of Canader, vice is used for any illegal activity, mainly houses of ill repute,and you use a vise in the workshop. 🙂

Reply to  Justthinkin
July 23, 2015 12:44 pm

After I commented on vice vs vise, I found via a wikipedia article (not tainted by William Connolley) that “Americans and Canadians retain the very old distinction between vise (the tool) and vice (the sin, and also the Latin prefix meaning a “deputy”), both of which are vice in the UK and Australia”
Because Kerr is a professor in Ottawa I assumed vice was a Canadian usage.
[The mods do not recommend any vice-professor ever viscerally tighten his vice in a vise … .mod]
[Or vise-versa. ~ Evan]

Reply to  jim Steele
July 23, 2015 1:06 pm

Not a problem, Jim (BTW, we share the same name). Up here we still spell colour and neighbour. And spell check says I’m wrong. Oh well. It could be worse. I’m still trying to teach my 40 year old daughter the difference between too, to, and two. She gets engineering much easier. Or is it easy? 🙂

Reply to  jim Steele
July 23, 2015 2:06 pm

It is not easy. For example, What is the correct spelling for the following sentence: There are three twos in the English language. Or is 3 tos or 3 toos?

Reply to  jim Steele
July 23, 2015 7:43 pm

There is only one “to” and one “too” and one “two”…lol so who won?

Juan Slayton
Reply to  jim Steele
July 23, 2015 9:16 pm

My grandaughter would probably explain to you that there are also tutus.
But this is going too far….

July 23, 2015 12:20 pm

Dang, Jim, that is as thorough a demolishment of a scientific paper as I’ve seen in a while. Clearly organized, well documented, it makes me really glad not to be either Kerr or et al. at this moment in history …
Very well done.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
July 23, 2015 12:39 pm

Thanks Willis. Notice I did not attribute any intent 😉

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
July 23, 2015 12:57 pm

I sent a copy of this critique to Kerr and await his response. I also will modify the post to make an official “reply” to Science but I don’t expect much based on my request for a Parmesan retraction.

Reply to  jim Steele
July 23, 2015 2:30 pm

When a guy like Kerr reads a commentary concerning his work like this one, what do you think his reaction is? Embarrassment? This should wreck any reputation he has, does he regret not thinking through his premise more thoroughly?

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
July 23, 2015 1:41 pm

I agree Willis- EXCELLENT and understandable even by a layperson by me. For those who haven’t read Jim’s book, it is full of thoughtful, detailed, and though provoking analysis like this one. And Willis- between posts by YOU, Jim Steele, and Bob Tisdale, I just can’t get enough of WUWT. Thanks for all your insightful contributions as well.

Reply to  Louise Nicholas
July 25, 2015 1:06 pm

Thanks as always Louise!

July 23, 2015 12:22 pm

Oh. And the area south of us, Lacombe, Stettler, eastern Calgary, Red Deer, got hammered with up to 4″ of hail, and one tornado yesterday. It amazed me how many people are surprised by hail in the summer. Basic science…..the stones come from thunderstorms, created in the updrafts. And we don’t get many T-storms at -30F and 10% humidity!

Joe Born
July 23, 2015 12:38 pm

Another excellent post.
Thanks so much for all your work.

ferd berple
July 23, 2015 2:19 pm

Scandinavian tree ring data that suggests temperatures have been cooler since the 1950s
hide the decline! wasn’t this the same “problem” found with the Briffa’s Yamal series? The reason Jones copied Mike’s Nature Trick?

DD More
July 23, 2015 2:55 pm

Jim – “But extent, or acreage, is not the only land use factor that could impact bees. The major factor is the loss of flowers.
Due to cheaper synthetic fertilizers, many croplands no longer plant crops of bee-nourishing alfalfa to rotate with crops of wind-pollinated corn or wheat. Planting alfalfa had partially offset the loss of flowers when native grasslands were cultivated. Additionally pastures and grasslands are managed to reduce insect pollinated flowers and promote more wind‑pollinated grasses.”
You may use North and South Dakota as examples.
North Dakota is the #1 honey producing state in the nation. In 2014 North Dakota bees produced over 42 million pounds of honey valued at over $84 million.
The Apiary Program licenses beekeepers and registers hive locations annually. Hives are inspected when requested by the beekeeper. In these inspections we look for pests and diseases such as Varroa mites, American foulbrood, European foulbrood, chalk brood and small hive beetles.
Honey production in South Dakota last year totaled 17 million pounds, the second-most in the nation behind North Dakota.
And the #1 & #2 acreage for alfalfa are SD & ND.

Reply to  DD More
July 23, 2015 3:55 pm

Good info. Thanks DD

Reply to  DD More
July 23, 2015 7:40 pm

That’s amazing!…do they use sunflowers or some other flower to help populate them?

Steve in SC
July 23, 2015 3:14 pm

There are indeed problems identifying bumblebees. The prime culprit is the carpenter bee that we have here in the south. They look exactly like a bumblebee. They are of course about 50% larger than a bumblebee. Then again there at least 30 species of bumblebee to choose from as well. Then there are those folks who can not tell the difference between a yellow jacket and a bumblebee. Yellow jackets are of course yellow and black and are a bit smaller and more linear than bumblebees. Yellow jackets inhabit more open places like fields and yards whereas bumblebees prefer woods and places with some undergrowth. Yellow jackets are much more aggressive and will gang up on you in great numbers. Bumblebees pretty much won’t mess with you unless you are standing real close breathing on their nest hole.
And OK I don’t know what you call or why but here in the south it is called a Bush Hog because those are the people that invented it and still make it.

Steve P
July 23, 2015 8:36 pm

According to Bumblebee org, there are 46 species of bumblebee in N. America, including one named – improbably – Bombus crotchii
All are boldly marked in yellow and black, and a few also have red, including B. crotchii
The link amounts to a field guide for N. American bumblebees. A quick glance should confirm the difficulty of identifying bumblebees in the field without photography, and there are other insects like hoverflys, bees, and wasps that could be mistaken for bumblebees by novices. The Carpenter bee is jet black. Even mostly black bumblebees like B. californicus retain some bold yellow markings.
Great essay by Jim Steele!

Steve P
Reply to  Steve P
July 23, 2015 9:04 pm

…without photography or specimen…
Now, with Bumblebee org’s nice field guide in hand, who cares to take a stab at identifying the bumblebee pictured in the lead to Dr. Steele’s article?

Reply to  Steve P
July 24, 2015 8:04 am

It looks more like a European bumblebee with the whitish/yellowish tip of the abdomen, a characteristic I haven’t noticed in North America, but I have not intensively studied all bumble bees. A quick glance at the North American guide doesn’t offer any good matches

Steve P
Reply to  Steve P
July 24, 2015 12:19 pm

It’s hard to say with only one photograph, and no apparent clues to where & when it was taken, but to my eyes at least, I’d suggest that the whitish/yellowish tip Jim mentioned is actually a highlight or reflection either from the sun or possibly from a flash.
My (barely) educated guess would be that this fella lady is the aforementioned Crotch Bumblebee, B. crotchii, but always ready to be corrected by any lurking entomologists.
Please see here, about halfway down, for a good photo of a B. crotchii queen.

Reply to  Steve P
July 25, 2015 12:54 pm

If it is a European bee, most likely the very common Bombus terrestris. (Usually has a pale back end, but difficult to see that). But intra-species variation is considerable so could be other, or maybe not European. Excuse if I’m wrong (after all, I’m not Beecatcher)

Steve P
Reply to  Steve P
July 27, 2015 10:15 am

Thanks Jim Steele and mothcatcher for stepping up. Id say we probably can’t get a firm ID from one picture without more data, expecially where the photo was taken, but our little adventure underlines the difficulty of making field ID without taking specimens, and/or a lot of photographs. We can be reasonably sure however, that the workers involved in such efforts know approximately where they are working, which helps narrow things down considerably.
General bumble bee ID/anatomy info:
“The lower edge of the fourth and fifth abdominal segments are [sic] whitish.”
From the xerces link, very detailed guide to Western Bumble Bees of the U.S.:

Steve P
July 23, 2015 9:29 pm

Correction: Some Carpenter Bees are jet black.
Xylocopa virginica is yellow and black and could easily pass for a B. impatiens, according to this field guide: Bumblebees of Illinois and Missouri.

A Pedant
July 24, 2015 2:45 am

Humblebee was the correct English name in Darwin’s day and before. Beatrix Potter is to blame for the vulgar corruption Bumblebee which we are now stuck with.

Bruce Hall
July 24, 2015 11:13 am

Apparently, bumblebees have all migrated to our garden in Michigan. They are everywhere and a pleasure to watch because they don’t care if you are nearby. In fact, my son accidentally stepped on one today. It must have been to laden with pollen to fly anymore.

August 2, 2015 10:17 am

Well, some studies also show that pesticides are not the problem either, because:
– beekeepers and farmers coordinate
– parasites are known to be a serious problem
– housekeeping is known to be a major factor (fungi etc reduce bees’ resistance to other threats, two beekeepers on the mid-wet coast are developing a hive that is better for the wet winter climate)
– unusually cold winters were a problem recently in ON and PQ Canada, both directly and because they need to be given additional food. (In colder climes hives are not wintered over, sometimes they are moved to a milder location such as SW BC.)
I’ll grant there is a claim that the insecticide put on seeds goes into the plant and into its pollen, I have not checked into that. Putting insecticides on seeds is not new, 60 years ago it was done for potatoes.
The debate is just like the climate debate – throwing studies around, omitting context, omitting facts, …..

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