Bumblebees are the harmless doofuses of the bee world, or so we thought. It turns out that when introduced to a foreign ecosystem, they actually wreak havoc on native species. Bumblebees brought in to South American greenhouses have escaped, and are quickly dominating the continent at the cost of other species.
Bumblebees of the species Bombus terrestris are bred to act as pollinators for crops. These bees were introduced to greenhouses in Chile back in 1998, and have been dominating the continent ever since, pushing out native species as they establish their own colonies.
Now the five bee species native to southern South America are being threatened, though Bombus terrestris may only be indirectly at fault. What could actually be killing the other species of bee is a parasite that lives in the terrestris’ intestines, Crithidia bombi, which infects bees and changes the behavior patterns of workers. This can prevent the formation of colonies and cause death.
While some studies have been done to measure the impact of the terrestris invasion, the more remote areas of southern Chile have not been explored to find B. terrestris. That means the full extent of the invasion isn’t known, but the data that does exist shows it’s happening more rapidly than scientists would have guessed considering the need for the bees to establish colonies.
It’s unclear just how B. terrestris will impact local plant life, but they’re bees, so we guess they’ll probably pollinate the heck out of it.
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