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Stories from around the region that engage and inspire.A special thank you to the City of Flagstaff BBB grant program and Flagstaff Cultural Partners for awarding KNAU $18,400 to help fund KNAU's Science and Technology Desk.

Brain Food: Can High Elevation Bees Adapt To Climate Change?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

More than 170 different kinds of bees are pollinating plants in Arizona’s high elevation forests. Flagstaff ecologist Lindsie McCabe wants to know what will happen to them as global temperatures warm. She’s conducting experiments with bees on the San Francisco Peaks, simulating the impact of climate change on native pollinators.

“So, these bees are unique because they are adapted to high elevation temperatures and climates,” McCabe says, “which means that if our temperature warms, they will have to move up in elevations to persist at similar climates. And when you get higher up on the mountain, there’s nowhere else for them to go.”

Since most of these bees live in dead and downed trees, McCabe built little wooden boxes for them to use as nests. She burned the wood because bees are attracted to the scent. Between May and October, McCabe recorded 180 eggs in the little bee condos. Next, she’ll move them to lower elevations to see how many hatch.

“When we move these blocks, we move them down about 1,000 feet,” McCabe says, “so we know that it’s completely outside their current range. We’re testing to see if they can rapidly adapt to these temperatures.”

McCabe believes that can adapt to warmer temperatures. She’ll find out more next spring when she catches any emerging bees and learns whether the high elevation offspring were able to survive in a lower elevation neighborhood. 

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