We all are aware of danger which heat causes to fertility of mankind, but have we considered how it effects those in the animal kingdom? Reading up on this topic I came across an older study which answers the question. Heat decreases fertility of honeybees – is their direct claim!

The extreme heat associated with climate change is placing insects under a great deal of strain, and even small temperature changes can damage an insect’s ability to reproduce. This includes honeybees too! A new study led by the University of British Columbia has investigated the link between heat stress and fertility loss in honeybees.

Study Proves That The Heat Decreases Fertility of Honeybees

For the current study, the researchers used mass spectrometry to analyze sperm stored in honeybee queens, after conducting their marital flights.

What McAfee’s team did first was to expose queen bees to simulated heat waves, noting a spike in specific proteins in their bodies. Then the researchers used this as a bench-marker to create a diagnostic lab test. In other words, the team made a set of signifiers for heat stress which could then be used when examining new specimens, to see if an insect had been exposed to heat.

“We are looking for signs of heat stress in queens as an indicator of what’s going on in the environment,” says McAfee. “If we start seeing signs of heat stress in honeybees, that’s when we really need to be worried about wild insects, which don’t have stewards like beekeepers, and are often solitary, making them more vulnerable to extreme temperatures.”

Heat stress has been found to impact other species’ reproductive abilities too. Scientists at Western Sydney University found that merino ewes and koalas “experience chronic stress as a result of extreme heat, and research indicates that it may also be affecting their ability to breed,” says lead researcher dr. Edward Narayan.

Conducted study has identified five proteins that are activated when the bees are exposed to extreme heat. Activation of these proteins directly is responsible for the fertility loss. More accuratelye, it leads to damaging of the sperm inside queen. This conclusively means means that heat waves make it harder for them to reproduce.

These findings are applicable to all of the terrestrial insects. McAfee’s team claims that: “Terrestrial insect populations are declining around the world. Heat stress, like what can happen during heat waves, partially sterilizes [insects] by damaging their sperm.”

In conclusion McAfee has further plans. She hopes to collaborate more with beekeepers around the world to monitor this problem. McAfee wants to use more queens in lab tests to monitor whether they have experienced heat stress in different environments as the climate changes. She especially wants to conduct studies on new queens.

Further Steps

Because bees are crucial pollinators, they are essential parts of our ecosystem. This means protecting their fertility is vital for the food supplies we rely on. However, the findings have implications beyond just the birds and the bees, for bees.

 “Terrestrial insect populations are declining around the world. Heat stress, like what can happen during heat waves, partially sterilizes [insects] by damaging their sperm.” – as a McAfee’s team claims.

In fact McAfee hopes to be able to collaborate more with beekeepers around the world, as queen bees are usually replaced every couple of years by keepers. McAfee wants to use these queens in lab tests to monitor whether they have experienced heat stress in different environments as the climate changes.

In the end, we can say that the damaged fertility is yet another problem which global warming causes to the honeybees. Let’s hope that our ladies will be able to overcome all of the dangers which we imposed upon them with our behavior. We, humanity should feel at least a tinny speck of responsibility for loss of fertility of honeybees. After all, it is our greed that led to the global warming.

Details on this study can be read here, while it’s shortened form can be read at the Nature Sustainability.

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