Mark Buckner/Danforth Lab

M. nuda is a Macropis species of solitary bee that relies on oil from its host plant L. Ciliata to feed their larvae and build nests.

September 7, 2022

Cornell Researchers Predict the Future of a Rare Specialist Bee Amid a Changing Climate

Print More

In a 2022 study, Prof. Bryan Danforth, entomology, and Mark Buckner grad demonstrated that climate change is predicted to alter the geographic distribution of the solitary bee species M. nuda, pushing the species northward. As climate change forces a migration of pollinator species, their futures are unknown.

With research on this solitary bee species being scarce, this study is a catalyst for future research regarding bees and ecological threats.

Solitary bees, which live independently from colonies, play an important role in pollination. Solitary species even provide more effective pollination in fruit crops such as apples than their more well-known relatives, the honey bees. They also play a key role in maintaining ecosystem stability in the wild. 

M. nuda is a Macropis species of solitary bee that relies on oil from its host plant L. Ciliata to feed their larvae and build nests. 

“Protecting species like M. nuda is part of safeguarding bee biodiversity and ecosystem resilience as the climate changes,” Buckner said. “Our predictions are useful hypotheses about how a species may respond to the changing environment.” 

To predict  M. nuda’s response to climate change, Buckner and Danforth used species distribution models of the bees and its host plant L. ciliata to further observe and evaluate possible future distributions of M. nuda.  

“Models help us balance trade-offs and make more informed and confident decisions about where to prioritize conservation or how to facilitate species movement as their habitats shift,” Buckner said.

M. nuda and L. ciliata were predicted to have similar northward shifts as a result of climate change, maintaining similar environmental habitats. However, habitat suitability was predicted to decline overall by 2090 due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. 

While this provides new insight into the future of M. nuda, there is more to learn about the future of bees under a changing climate. According to Buckner, researchers are now collaborating to better understand the impact of climate change on bee populations. The programs being developed are key to predicting the future of species, as well as maintaining bee biodiversity. 

Although the distribution of the host plant plays a role in the projected distribution of M. nuda, no other living factors, such as competition, were considered. This suggests that M. nuda may face additional barriers in new habitats.

Regardless, the species distribution models provided new information for targeted collections, conservation efforts and distribution predictions. These projections can aid conservationists in supporting M. nuda and similar species, as the land between current and predicted future habitats can be preserved to aid in the ease of M. nuda dispersal.

“It is vital to preserve diverse and resilient landscapes, ensure access to abundant and diverse native plant species, control invasive plant and bee species and reduce pesticide use,” Buckner said.

Conservationists are not the only ones who can help support pollinators like M. nuda. Buckner said that planting diverse native flowering plants and keeping trimmed stems in a garden is one step people can take.

“Even without a garden, you can protect pollinators by limiting your pesticide use or getting involved,” Buckner said. “Taking part in pollinator conservation can be as simple as spreading the word about wild bee conservation.”