And what's most noticeable is the near absence of one particular species, the yellow-and-black American bumblebee. There are 4,000 species of wild bees in America and 49 of them are bumblebees. In the Midwest, the most common bee has been Bombus pensylvanicus, known as the American bumblebee. It only stings defensively, experts say. But in 447 hours of searching, Burkle's team found only one American bumblebee, a queen. That fits with a study that University of Illinois entomologist Sydney Cameron did two years ago when she found a dramatic reduction in the number and range of the American bumblebee.
"It was the most dominant bumblebee in the Midwest," Cameron said, saying it now has pretty much disappeared from much of its northern range. Overall, its range has shrunk by about 23 percent, although it is still strong in Texas and the West, she said. "People call them the big fuzzies," Cameron said. "They're phenomenal animals. They can fly in the snow." Her research found four species of bumblebees in trouble: the American bumblebee, the rusty-patched bumblebee, the western bumblebee and the yellow-banded bumblebee.
A separate Science study by a European team showed that wild bees in general have a larger role in pollinating plants than the honey bees that are trucked in to do the job professionally. Those domesticated bees are already in trouble with record high prices for bees to pollinate California almond trees, said David Inouye at the University of Maryland. Scientists suspect a combination of disease and parasites for the dwindling of both wild and domesticated bees.
Online: Science: http://www.sciencemag.org