Museum collections indicate that bees have been increasingly stressed by climate change over the past 100 years

Scientists from Imperial College or University of London and the All-Natural Heritage Museum today published two concurrent articles analyzing bumblebee populations in the UK. Uni.

The first studied the morphology (body shapes) of bee specimens dating from 1900. Using digital images, the group first studied bumblebee wing asymmetry as an indicator of strain. A strong asymmetry (right and left wings very different in shape) indicates that the bees experienced stress during development – ​​an external factor that affected their normal growth.

By studying four species of British bumblebees, the group found evidence that worry increased as the century progressed from its lowest point at . Further analysis showed that each species of bee exhibited a consistently higher level of stress in the second half of the century.

Learning from the past to predict the future

By taking climatic foods during the year of collection – namely annual average temperature and annual rainfall – the team found that in the warmest and wettest years, the bees had higher wing asymmetry. The study is published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Author Aoife Cantwell-Jones, from the Department of Life Sciences (Silwood Park) of the Imperial, said: “By using a noticeable stress indicator on the external anatomy of the bee and caused by stress during development a few days or weeks before, we can seek to track more precisely the factors putting populations under pressure. across historical space and time.”

The author, Dr Andres Arce, now at the University of Suffolk, said: “Our aim is to better understand responses to specific environmental factors and learn from the past to predict the future. We hope to be able to predict where and when bumble bees will be most at risk and target effective conservation actions.

Lead author Dr. Richard Gill, Department of Science Imperial’s life (Silwood Park) said: “With warmer, more humid weather expected to put bumblebees under greater stress, the fact that these situations will become more frequent with climate change means that bumblebees could be in for a tough time in the th century.”

DNA of one leg

In addition to measuring the shape of bees’ wings, in a second parallel study, the team successfully sequenced the genomes of over a hundred bumblebee museum specimens dating back over 130 years. In a pioneering advance, ancient DNA methods typically used to study woolly mammoths and ancient humans have been used on an insect population for the first time.

Scientists from Natural History Museum and the Earlham Institute quantified DNA preservation using a single bee leg from each of the bees studied. Building on these developments, published today in Techniques in Ecology & Evolution, researchers can now seek to determine how reported stress may lead to loss of genetic diversity.

to providing a new reference genome, the team will now use this data to study how bee genomes have changed over time, understanding how entire populations have adapted – or not – to changing environments.

The value of museum collections

Focusing on bumblebee collections, the team worked with curators from Pure Heritage Museum London, National Museums Scotland, Oxford University Museum of Normal Background, Planet Museum Liverpool and Tullie Home Museum Carlisle.

The author, Dr Victoria Mullin, Purely Natural Record Museum, said: “The collections of i Museum insects provide an unprecedented opportunity to directly study how the genomes of populations and species have been affected by environmental changes over time. However, they are a limited resource and understanding how best to use them for genetic studies is critical.”

Lead author Professor Ian Barnes of the Organic History Museum said: “One of the main problems with museum collections is that the quality of DNA can be highly variable, making it difficult to predict what sort of analyzes we should be doing. We now have a much better idea of ​​DNA preservation in insect collections, giving a massive boost to our ongoing work to understand the history and future of insect populations.”

Dr. Gill concluded: “These studies show the value of leveraging museum specimens to go back in time and uncover techniques of the past. But what we’ve done is just the beginning, and by continuing our work with these vital public collections and collaborating with curators, we can only discover more.

“This work was part of a project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and could not have been accomplished without the commitment, hard work and diligence of the museum’s curators and our other collaborators. We are also grateful to the BBSRC funds to support the generation of the bumblebee reference genome.”

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