PENDLETON — Roughly 75% of flowering plants and 35% of crops, amounting to $3 billion worth of production, are believed to rely on the presence of bees to pollinate them each year.
In Oregon, much of that work is done by more than 625 native bee species that equally rely on the surrounding ecosystem and their interactions with it to survive. Those bee species, including those native to Eastern Oregon, could face a litany of challenges brought by a changing climate.
Those challenges were the topic of a virtual presentation delivered by Sandy DeBano, an associate professor in Oregon State University’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, during the Eastern Oregon Climate Change Coalition’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
DeBano, who is stationed at the OSU Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Hermiston, highlighted the potential danger of warming temperatures in the region resulting in “range compression” for bee species in Eastern Oregon.
“The hypothesis is that species that are adjusted to cooler conditions are going to move from lower latitudes and elevations to higher ones as the climate warms,” DeBano said.
While a lack of regional data doesn’t allow for definitive conclusions on how increased temperatures will impact regional bee populations, DeBano said, preliminary data alludes to the dangers they face.
At three separate locations — the Boardman Grasslands, Zumwalt Prairie in Wallowa County and the Starkey Experimental Forest — student researchers documented a variance of naitve bumble bee species that aligns with the difference in the average temperatures in July at each location.
This data suggests that as temperatures rise in the region, the variance and quantity of bumble bee species may decline.
“Certainly other factors are contributing to bumble bee species richness, but a lot of these papers are consistently finding that some aspect of temperature is consistently playing a major role in determining or influencing bumble species richness,” DeBano said.
The potential for earlier summers may also disrupt the phenology of bees and plants in Eastern Oregon, DeBano said, which refers to the cycles of plants’ flowering times and bee activity to pollinate them.
“The result might be less food for bees and fewer plants being pollinated,” she said.
Debano also noted concerns that perennial streams in the region, which flow throughout the year, will become more intermittent and negatively impact resources that bees need for food.
Other risks brought by climate change include exacerbated wildfires, which can kill native bees and disrupt their habitats in Eastern Oregon. These impacts and influences are still being researched and evaluated, DeBano said.
“The long-term effects are difficult to predict and are really dependent on the system,” she said.
But DeBano also highlighted some actions that individuals can take to address the potential dangers of climate change on bee populations, particularly by using pesticides responsibly.
“We can conserve habitat where native bees are, we can enhance existing habitat, we can increase habitat, and I think really important is that we can reduce stressors,” she said.