Claim: Global warming is shortening the tongues of Bumble Bees


Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t The Register – A study published in Science claims that global warming is shortening the tongues of Bumble Bees, which may impact the ability of their tongues to reach the bottom of deep tube flowers.

The abstract of the study;

Functional mismatch in a bumble bee pollination mutualism under climate change

Ecological partnerships, or mutualisms, are globally widespread, sustaining agriculture and biodiversity. Mutualisms evolve through the matching of functional traits between partners, such as tongue length of pollinators and flower tube depth of plants. Long-tongued pollinators specialize on flowers with deep corolla tubes, whereas shorter-tongued pollinators generalize across tube lengths. Losses of functional guilds because of shifts in global climate may disrupt mutualisms and threaten partner species. We found that in two alpine bumble bee species, decreases in tongue length have evolved over 40 years. Co-occurring flowers have not become shallower, nor are small-flowered plants more prolific. We argue that declining floral resources because of warmer summers have favored generalist foraging, leading to a mismatch between shorter-tongued bees and the longer-tubed plants they once pollinated.

Read more:

The full study suggests that Theoretical and empirical studies alike suggest that with lower floral resources, fitness advantages of long-tongued specialist phenotypes have diminished, potentially driving the rapid evolution of shorter-tongued bees.

Even if we accept the premise of the study, that harsher conditions are strongly selecting for bees with shorter tongues, it seems curious that the alleged shortage of bees with long tongues, and the implicit inability of available bees to satisfactorily pollinate deep tube flowers, doesn’t seem to be forcing deep tube flowers to evolve shorter tubes.

119 thoughts on “Claim: Global warming is shortening the tongues of Bumble Bees

  1. “Spatial and temporal discrepancies with food plants, habitat destruction, and pressure from invasive competitors have been implicated (3–6), but the details of these declines and their causes remain unresolved.”
    So we’re going to blame global warmi….errrr….global climate chan…..errrr… climate disruption.

    • They also say in the full paper:

      Rapid evolution of shorter tongues in these species may inform our understanding of widespread declines in long-tongued Bombus specialists……
      Theoretical and empirical studies alike suggest that with lower floral resources, fitness advantages of long-tongued specialist phenotypes have diminished, potentially driving the rapid evolution of shorter-tongued bees.

      Flowers fight back!

      Rapid response to artificial selection on flower size in Phlox
      We also concluded that rapid evolution of morphological floral traits is possible.
      Rates of Floral Evolution: Adaptation to Bumblebee Pollination in an Alpine Wildflower, Polemonium viscosum
      …..This prediction is matched by an observed 9% increase in offspring corolla flare after a single bout of bumblebee-mediated selection, relative to offspring of unselected controls. Findings show that plant populations can adapt rapidly to abrupt changes in pollinator assemblages.

  2. This just in: Belief in manmade global warming causes massive IQ drop.
    How do they knew it’s not environmental issue causing their potential tongue size problems, such as newer pesticides?

    • When people look back on the AGW alarmism episode from 200 years in the future, then they will probably say exactly that about the entire episode. Especially since, for example, a prediction that the arctic sea-ice would have disappeared by 2015 will look even more stupid in 2215, when it is still there.
      With 215 years of satellite measurements behind them, then some clear overall patterns should be revealed. Hopefully by then they will have noticed that the temperature is either trending up or trending down during any one particular period.
      And that there is no need to panic about that!!!

      • This will all go down in history as a cautionary tale about endowing “science” with the imprimatur of “religion.” A reminder of the RULES of the legitimate scientific method.

      • Actuality I expect 200 years of satellite data to revel no patterns at all, just noise with times of warming and times of cooling. That what the historical reproduction reveal.

  3. When someone publishes research which suggests climate change shortens penis length, 1/2 the world may then wake-up.

  4. So, let me get this straight. “Global Warming” or whatever that might be, is preferentially selecting for a gene that causes the organism to be unable to eat correctly and thus die off. I wonder if these folks ever read Darwin?

  5. I would not want to be the grad student who had the job of collecting the raw data for this study.
    Hope whoever it was isn’t allergic to bees.

  6. Global Climate Change has caused a marked decrease in the average IQ of published scientists. says P.G.Sharrow N.D.D. of the PGTruspace research institute. 😉 pg

    • CO2 is causing certain tongues to become more forked. To be clear I could have suggested a word very close phonetically but I shall keep it at Forked.

  7. After much huffing and puffing and lots of lovely grant money they conclude: “In remote mountain habitats—largely isolated from habitat destruction, toxins, and pathogens – evolution is helping wild bees keep pace with climate change.”
    No problem then.

  8. Now if those researchers had claimed that warmer summers has caused a decrease in the nutritional value of the nectar being produced by said “longer-tubed plants” ….. has resulted in two alpine bumble bee species evolving shorter tongue lengths over the past 40 years ….. then I might be more inclined to believe their argument.
    Evolution does not “weed-out”, …. via natural selection, ….. an appendage that is necessary for “survival of the species”.

  9. Again, this is how the scaremongering works (my emphasis in CAPITALS):
    1) Headline: “Climate change shrinking bees’ tongues, scientists say”
    2) Actual article: “scientists say that climate change is causing SOME bees’ tongues to shrink”, “researchers BELIEVE”, “POTENTIALLY disrupting “, ““The not-so-silver lining is the effect that this MIGHT”, ” IF the bees are visiting…the plants COULD decline”,”It will be REALLY HARD TO PREDICT what a seemingly small change like this will have on the larger community”, “it’s IMPOSSIBLE to say how much more stress they can handle”. Etc.
    3) Actual science: “ONE species of bumblebeE…saw their mean tongue length drop to six millimetres from eight millimetres in ONE mountain-range population. Another species…saw a drop to just under four millimetres from just over five millimetres.”
    All this, and no word that I can find as to how large the collection of specimen is, or if there is any data on when they were collected. All this shrinkage could have occurred over any sub-set of time over the entire collection.
    But seriously, someone gets paid to re-hydrate bee tongues…

    • Ah, but when the grant money flows like … er … milk and honey, then there is plenty to spread around. You can pay graduate students to spend all day re-hydrating and measuring bees’ tongues. Heck, you can pay them to count the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. The honey train seems endless … for now.

      • You stand corrected. You can only pay grad students to count the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin if it can somehow be associated with global warming.

      • Yep.
        “A nearly ten-year-long series of investigations into a pair of plant physiologists who received millions in funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation has resulted in debarments of less than two years for each of the researchers.”
        Of course, climate science is WAY more settled than dumb ol’ plant physiology, and if anyone should be investigated, jailed and their ideas erased from history it should be CAGW skeptics…

      • “Were any bees harmed in producing this study?”
        No, but it took them a while to figure out how to say “Stick out your tongue, and go AAAAHHH”, in beespeak.

      • Not that this is relevant, but the “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” was actually a sophisticated philosophical debate on the nature of space. The debate was whether there was a physical limit to the number a times an area of space could be sub-divided. In modern language, we would express it as whether space at its most fundamental level is digital in nature or whether you can sub-divide the head of a pin to infinity. We often forget that our immediate ancestors in medieval times were just as smart as us. They thought about the same things we think about. Not really relevant, just couldn’t resist.

  10. So to summarize: bees, that have been around for millions of years, are being threatened by a 1.5F temperature rise over 150 years, an increase that is far less than year-to-year variability. Oh, and a note to the aspiring entomologists who published this study: on a bee, the tongue is called a proboscis.
    An interesting note about bumble bees is that they are known to engage in nectar robbing. This is when a bee uses its mandibles to bite a hole at the base of a long-necked flower, thereby allowing it to easily access the nectar but bypass the long neck. I have personally witnessed this activity on monarda (bee balm) flowers.

    • Whilst not having seen this directly, I have frequently seen bumble bees disappear behind cranesbill flowers, and the resultant hole in the petals

    • I was hoping to point this out, but you beat me to it John.
      All of my zucchini flowers are nibbled at the base, the bumble bees seem to prefer doing this rather than climb down the flower tube.

  11. It would be far easier to get the public to worry about climate change if scientists could produce a report saying that global warming will shorten men’s penises.

    • I expect that there are several research teams working on that one already. Stay tuned.
      Of course, even if they find that, it wouldn’t have any relevance to the question of whether the earth is warming or not.

      • I don’t think they’re working Ralph, they’re simply playing with their own, perhaps to stop them atrophying because of all the blood rushing to their heads.

  12. “We found that in two alpine bumble bee species, decreases in tongue length have evolved over 40 years.”
    Because of natural selection. It is obviously a survival trait (if true). It gives the short-tongued bees access to more sources of food. The longer-tubed plants are not as numerous as they once were so the bees have decided to develop new partnerships with new plant species. Whoever wrote this crap needs to go back and repeat Evolution 101. Things in nature change. Those who believe every change is a departure from a perfect static norm and a disaster should be defunded for stupidity.

  13. They did a lot of work. I wouldn’t get too worked up about the finding. A tongue length change of 2 mm is worth looking at but given they know there is a range of lengths among different populations it is likely simply an adaptation consistent with variable resources. The length may change with different populations depending on the resources available in any given time span. This may be something the bees have been doing for millions of years. It’s warmer, we know that, post little ice age, etc. etc. so why wouldn’t a population of alpine insects have the plasticity to adjust with the prevalence of resources. This type of short term adaptation has already been documented in Darwin’s finches with relatively rapid changes in beak length. It would be interesting to calculate the relationship to short tube blossoms more precisely. I actually liked what I read but certainly this isn’t evidence the world is ending. They didn’t say that but that is the way this work will be used. They would have been much more professional to simply relate the tongue, blossom, and low mean temperature and altitude in different time periods and let other researchers dig deeper. Throwing “global warming” in to the mix is just plain awful and getting to be very tedious. This is a local finding only and any statements implying relevance beyond the Colorado Front Range is not supported by their work.

  14. Seems the only way to get a government grant is to blame something on global warming. The added benefit of adding a dubious paper to the publish or die syndrome.

  15. Well. the big [snip] up here is that they assumed shortened probosces would be a problem without any acknowledgment that this maybe by natural needs,. Perhaps there is plenty of food.

  16. Their claim is that only minimum temperatures have increased. I would like an explanation of why higher minimums would change the floral composition- especially over about a 2C increase. I imagine that global warming had to be incorporated for grant purposes – otherwise a useful study. The publish or parish syndrome is evident with ten co-authors – it used to be much simpler and not hurried. And, yes, we now know that alpine areas are another “canary in the coal mine”.

    • and more to the point, why are we measuring tongue length, and how is it done? Do you ask the bee to say AAH and then slip a ruler into its mouth? Sorry, I’m a little “beehind” on the technique involved here.

  17. So if the Bees tongues get longer is it due to global cooling or regardless of bees tongues getting longer or shorter it is due to global warming?
    If you want to get grant monies for your research I suggest the latter.

    • emsnews,
      How about that other famous bee appendage famous(In Australia and worldwide i assume) for measuring small distances.
      All the Heteronormative Lady Bees are very, very interested to know if that particular appendage has been affected.

  18. Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    There are a few standards as to which I hold myself a ‘global warming’, ‘climate change’, ‘climate disruption’ or whatever suits the vibe of the day, sceptic. The first is that anything and everything is, can or will be blamed on the timeless aberration of climate.
    The second is called ‘publish or perish’.
    Dear Miller-Struttmann et al.,
    Congrats on citing ‘climate change’ as the premise of your study…Thanks to WUWT, it has now bee-n cited by millions!
    (Publish or perish…the climate change way.)

  19. My question is why would anyone decide to do a study on the length of the tongues of Bumblebees anyway. And what were they trying to show at the onset of the project 40 years ago? Littlepeaks wants to know. I read the full study, and it doesn’t describe the method of measuring Bumblebees’ tongues. Could it be that tongue length was measured differently during the second part of the study?

    • It is in the supplemental:
      From 1966-1969, Macior (18) surveyed and identified more than 8,000 bees from alpine habitats (>3500m) at Mount Evans and Niwot Ridge. Bumble bees collected by Macior from 1966-1969 were deposited in the University of Colorado Entomology Museum….
      ….2012-2014, we resurveyed bumble bee communities at four altitudes on Niwot Ridge (3500m, 3600m, 3675m and 3750m) and five altitudes on Mount Evans (3500m, 3600m, 3700m, 3800m and 3900m) in accordance with Macior (18)…
      ….surveyed and identified bumble bee workers weekly during the flowering season along transects at two altitudes (3505m in willow krummholz habitat and 3960m on the summit) from 1977-1979. In addition to Byron’s specimens, collections were made as part of a UNESCO Man-and-Biosphere project between 1977-1980. In 2008, 2011 and 2013, we collected worker bumble bees along transects at 3659m and 3730m,..
      And like all good climate change articles, they use bias adjustment:
      …We then used this relationship (y = 0.18 + 0.974x; R2 = 0.731, t1,61 = 12.87, P < 0.0001) to correct the tongue length of historic specimens from these sites.
      However the authors present not one piece of data about climate change, either global or local, from which to build correlations or causations. It is all conjecture.

      • So, instead of the advertised “40 years of data”, we actually have 40 year-old data?
        Sorry, I’ll check the supplemental myself to be sure, but from what you have, they have specimen from:
        1) 66 to 69
        2) 77 to 79
        3) 77 to 80
        4) 2008, 2011 and 2013
        That’s not 40 years of data. That’s data from 11 years.
        Hide the pea…

  20. “A study published in Science claims that global warming is shortening the tongues of Bumble Bees”
    I wish it would shorten the tongues of alarmists like the Pope.

  21. Utterly beyond parody! I said it before – be prepared for continuous eye rolling until the Paris circus concludes.

  22. “global warming is shortening the tongues of Bumble Bees”
    Wouldn’t we have to have a Global Bumble Bee for global warming to affect it? Whatever alpine areas they studied, they are local, not global.
    I’m trying to figure out why bees with longer tongues can’t feed on shorter flowers. Just don’t stick it out as far. And why then would shorter tongues be selected for?
    If the species can change radically in 40 years, it can change back radically.

  23. “Cameron believes it would be a good idea to conduct the same study again in five years, just to be sure that the tongue-shrinking is a long-term trend and not just “short-term cycling.” But if the trend holds true, it represents an instance of surprisingly rapid evolution in the bees.”
    Quote from the WaPo version of the article, which was a multi-layered heap of conjecture, which failed to notice the qualifier quoted above. Albeit an appeal for more grant money…. But at least a nod to premature conclusions.

  24. As time starts to run out on the gravy train at the feeding trough, there will be late comers seeking rewards of pubs and promotions.

  25. Mad Magazine used to my favorite periodical. It was very important to my personal and professional development.
    That said, this new crop of cagwa stories reminds me of….
    Who would be the new face to adorn the cover CagwMad mags….
    Just need a cartoonist with the skills…..
    still thinkin’
    as for the poor bees, maybe mating them with some french bees?

  26. As a musician I have noticed that global warming has caused my hands to sweat more and corrode the strings on my axes far quicker than is the norm.
    Making this stuff up is dead easy. Can I get a grant for a study?

  27. What? Bumblebees are characterized by having short tongues. They will chew holes on the bases of flowers to get nectar because of the short tongues. It is honeybees that have the long tongues and can feed from tube flowers.
    Who wrote this crap -they know nothing about bees – seems like the PR intro writernwas just wingimg it, or maybe they all were.

  28. Global Warming/Climate Change has caused Climate Scientists’ tongues to get longer to allow them to get further into the honey pot of government funding.

  29. It’s always struck me as a bit odd that those who promote preserving nature in stasis would claim that anything Man does that might effect nature is unnatural.
    Any “change” is bad. (Unless it is “Change you can believe in.”)

    • “It’s always struck me as a bit odd that those who promote preserving nature in stasis would claim that anything Man does that might effect nature is unnatural.”
      Do you mean that by their standards what they’re doing is unnatural?

      • What I mean is that the Enviros seem to think that “Nature’s” natural state is frozen in place. Never changing. That leaves only Man as the cause of any change.
        (Whether you are an “Evolutionist” or a “Creationist” or whatever either would call me, that’s nonsense.)

  30. I’m surprised this study has noy found more exposure in the fundamentalist press, since it’s saying Natural Selection is selecting for less fit species.
    Then again, I couldn’t see any figures for changes in population, so maybe it’s just irrelevant.

    • Fundamentalists agree with the concept of natural selection. We would not object if, for instance, you say thick furred dogs survive better in Alaska, while short haired dogs survive better in Mexico. Both traits are already in the canine gene pool. Nature selects for those traits present in a species’ gene pool best suited to a particular environment.
      Fundamentalists would object if, for instance, you say natural selection will cause dogs to grow antlers, because then you are conflating natural selection with evolution. Evolution requires new traits to be introduced into the gene pool, and natural selection can not do that.

  31. So they measured the change in bees but have no corresponding measured change in the flowers, temp, or moisture, they just referred to other papers that predicted a change with global warming. This is conjecture at its finest

  32. It’s not about tongues becoming shorter, it’s about flowers become bigger by CO2.
    Difference! 🙂
    By the way, why is this article tagged as “Science” and not as humor?

  33. global warming is shortening the tongues of Bumble Bees — when there is no [insignificant] global warming; and the seasonal and annual variations in temperature range by 10 oC, can we call such studies scientific studies?? They are worth — dust bins.
    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  34. Bees will fall to parasites before any effect from global warming. Sheesh what garbage. I have transported ~90,000 bees before in England back in the 90’s. No ill effects from the transport!

  35. From the linked article;
    “We used a nonlinear model to characterize the relationship between peak flower density (PFD; flowers per square meter) and summer minimum temperature.”
    And 4 other times the word model was used.

  36. It does not take a humongous observation power to notice that on this planet, the hotter it gets (because of seasons or because of being closer to the equator, or being lower in altitude) the more life we see, whether it’s plants or animals. We should be thankful for those “scientists” to explain in details that our observation is wrong and that a few degrees warmer will wipe out life…

  37. The Little Ice Age hit the bee populations very hard. Sheesh.
    Everything is ‘evil hot!’ to these lunatics all of whom refuse to move to Barrow, Alaska.

  38. IIRC, they feed bees in the winter with high fructose corn syrup. I wonder how far their probosces have to reach into the feeders to get to that? Maybe it’s not as far as in real flowers.

  39. I didn’t think adjusted data would have that affect. What was it about the pause that would cause such a thing?

  40. If you are someone who agrees with the projections of rapid climate change, this should be an encouraging finding. Isn’t it amazing that the morphology of the bee can change so dramatically in 40 years? Maybe organisms are far more resilient than we give them credit for and we don’t have to assume the worst even if the climate does change rapidly.

  41. Research suggests that claiming that anything is linked to climate change increases the probability of funding by 100%

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