Rising temperatures in alpine regions have led to declines in flowering plants. Researchers have found that some bumblebee species have learned to adapt to this by evolving shorter tongues.
In a study published in the journal Science, Candace Galen and colleagues discussed the ability of bumblebees to adapt. This isn't to mean that climate change is not a problem to them but rather that species can adapt, improving survival rates, if they are given adequate habitat and protected from environmental pollutants like pesticides.
The researchers were particularly interested in how bumblebees in alpine habitats in the Rocky Mountains were faring. They focused on tongue length because the trait is closely tied to the relationship bees and flowers have. Generally, bumblebees can either be "specialists" or "generalists." Specialists are able to feed on flowers with deep, long tubes because they have longer tongues, while generalists thrive on a wider variety of flowers with their shorter tongues.
Based on their findings, the researchers saw that tongue length for some bumblebee species were reduced by almost 25 percent over the course of 40 years. Galen said this is dramatic because typically an evolution of that level occurs within at least a few hundred years.
The researchers said that their findings offer "a glimmer of hope" for bumblebees. Planting companion plants, stopping habitat destruction and limiting the use of pesticides can buy bumblebees time to evolve, allowing them to naturally keep up with the challenges of a changing environment.
Bumblebees aren't the only ones acting to adapt though.
Scientists were so sure that the endangered quino checkerspot butterfly will be extinct by now because it was heavily threatened by climate change but the species defied expectations by surviving through moving higher up on mountains and laying eggs on new host plants.
Another story of resiliency comes from the Acropora hyacinthus corals. Corals typically bleach when exposed to warm waters but they managed to adapt to hotter water temperatures without changing their genes through phenotypic plasticity.
Tawny owls in Europe have also adapted to climate change by evolving to change their feather colors. With winters milder, the owls have less snow they can use as cover. This has caused a significant uptick in the population of browner tawny owls, which are better at blending in with the forest, giving them better chances at survival.
The problem of climate change remains but these show that at least species are finding ways on their own to adapt and survive.