February 23rd, 2024

B.C.’s dramatic temperature swings put stress on bees and cattle

By Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press on February 2, 2024.

Honeybees fly in and out of a bee hive at a Simon Fraser University experimental apiary in Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. The recent wild swing in temperatures in British Columbia has raised concerns about the impact on some local animals' health and, potentially, their survival. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER – Recent wild temperature swings in British Columbia have raised concerns about the impact on some local animals’ health, and potentially their survival.

Temperatures in the Fraser Valley city of Abbotsford, for instance, have swung from a low of -15.4 C on Jan. 12 to more than 18 C this week, and one researcher says she’s particularly worried about the swing’s impact on bees.

University of British Columbia bee researcher Alison McAfee says the extreme highs and lows are particularly dangerous to bumblebee populations since “false springs” could make queens emerge prematurely from hibernation.

McAfee says the queens could then be caught in a temperature downturn as they try to forage and start nests from scratch.

BC Cranberry Growers’ Association executive director Mike Wallace says a drop in bee populations would affect the pollination of local berry crops.

But Wallace says it’s too early to say if the recent temperature swing has damaged populations of local bee species.

“If the populations were significantly hurt, it would lower the amount of bees available for pollination services,” Wallace said.

“I haven’t heard anything one way or the other “¦ but, yeah, bees are necessary for good pollination and cranberries just like they are for all berry crops.”

The quick change in temperatures is also tough on cattle, said BC Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon.

He said ranchers in the province are keeping close attention to the weather and taking measures such as providing shelter and bedding, as well as adjusting feed to protect their herds.

“It is hard on them because it was such a dramatic shift,” Boon said. “They’re much happier when it goes from cold to warm than warm to cold, I’ll tell you that. But those make it very difficult … for their body to adapt.”

Boon said ranchers are also paying close attention to the warm weather melting snowpacks prematurely, which may exacerbate drought conditions that prevent farmers from growing enough feed for cattle.

“So we gotta hope that we get some more moisture to fill (reservoirs),” he said. “But it’s not a time to panic yet by any stretch of the word.”

For McAfee, the concern about bumblebees extends somewhat to honeybees, although bee keepers can help them manage temperature risks.

But she said some North American bumblebee species are already under pressure and are at risk of going extinct, a situation not helped by the temperature swings.

“Bombus occidentalis (the western bumblebee) is one native species to B.C. that used to be so common that it was used in commercial pollination and greenhouse operations,” McAfee said. “And now has been depleted to the point where I’ve actually never seen one.

“I think that as the climate changes and we get these unpredictable weather patterns, we’ll probably see more of these instances of false springs that are putting extra stress on bumblebees.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2024.

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