The link between evolution and conservation: the case of the bumblebee

April 4, 2017 • 7:42 am

by Matthew Cobb

This brief animated video was made by my final year student, Izzy Taylor, as part of her Zoology degree. It’s all her own work. She needs comments from viewers, so I’d be very grateful if you could spend 7 minutes having a quick look, and then posting your views – suggestions, criticisms, plaudits – in the comments below. I promise you’ll learn something interesting!

49 thoughts on “The link between evolution and conservation: the case of the bumblebee

  1. Very nice job!

    Would it make sense, in the case of this species of bumble bee, to take some from all of the sub populations that are still to be found, including New Zealand? (The video makes reference to other populations in other parts of Europe, for example.)

  2. Matthew- I would be happy to post this on my facebook page and ask readers to comment.
    Would you like folks to do that, and if so, from within the WEIT site or directly on YouTube? I liked it very much, and posted a comment on the YouTube page, where I went for a better view.

  3. Very well done. The only comment I might add regards the loss of the two species of bees in the U.K. A more specific understanding as to the cause of this loss could also be helpful with the introduction of new bees to this environment.

  4. Brilliant and fascinating. Not a biologist, so no comment on the biology. I love the design and artwork, and neat things like the way “variation” is written. A+

  5. VERY nicely done! Reposting on my FB page. The only point that might be added is that (despite that it should be obvious) unfortunately not all extinctions can be fixed.

    And just one other thought – do hedgehogs eat bumblebees?

    1. @Hampenstein Hedgehogs will eat bumblebee nests that are on [or very near the ground], but they can’t tackle nests built underground. But are you referring to the common badger @ 5:33? The badger does indeed dig up and eat bumblebee nests – other than humans the badger has no predators in the UK these days. I have read that parasites, birds & badgers are the UK biggest threats to bumblebees

      1. Nope, I was thinking more along the lines of (IIRC, anyway) the considerable effort the Brits have made to protect hedgehogs (with pipes under roads for them to cross, etc.) Charismatic fauna that they are, it would be cause for feeling conflicted if it turned out that they were bumblebee predators, and it sounds like they are, at least to some degree.

  6. Wow! I am really impressed by this video. The visuals and explanations…I love the drawings changing and being made while you watch the video.
    I also love her the sound of her beautiful and clear voice.
    I think it’s a terrific job.

  7. Very nicely done. A creative and excellent production. Groping for a comment that might be helpful… Early on in the presentation, human evolution was touched upon. Would it help the cause to touch on it again at the end?

    1. I think the bumble example would only be relevant to future human evolution in a sort of “Mine Shaft Gap” scenario.

      This sort of thing might have played a role in our past though.

  8. Absolutely delightful – & beautifully thought out & executed. (I was well aware of the re-introduction & story behind it by the way…)
    brill – good luck to Izzy 🙂

  9. Wonderful.
    My only confusion was with genetic drift. I didn’t follow the logic there. I felt the explanation was a bit to compressed or simplified to grasp. It could just be me.

  10. Liked Izzy’s closing: “So remember… Evolution is not just a thing of the past. Species need variation to continue evolving and survive in the future.”

    Here in the USA, we have a tendency to act as if evolution began and ended with Darwin.

  11. Beautiful art and clear explanations of complex scientific concepts, what a wonderful combination. More, please!

  12. Brilliant. I would not change a thing…except wave my magic wand and make every on the planet incapable of having more than 2 children per family.

  13. Very nice! The artwork and presentation is really great and brings the information “to life”!
    This brief video would make an excellent starting point for discussion in a school biology class.

    Izzy, you have the fine art of communicating science facts down to a T!

  14. Very informative, well-paced, beautifully illustrated. We nee more science presentations like this!

  15. As a retired professor, seeing work of this imaginative and intellectual quality warms the cockles of my educator’s heart (whatever they are). Congratulations to both teacher and pupil!

  16. Speaking as a layman, very well done! Clear and lucid explanations; the art work enhanced the presentation greatly.

  17. Clear, concise and conscience pricking. Job done. I notice there was no mention of securing a short-haired bumblebee population from Ireland, the nearest neighbour – have they gone extinct there too or is it the case as with some other species that they never got to Ireland (unlikely I guess, given their otherwise widespread distribution in Europe)? I’m going to FB this too – especially for my climate-change-denying, evolution-sceptic American friends.

  18. I found it simply brilliant. I have seen many of these types of lessons on YouTube, and I really like the combination of narration and illustration where the illustrations are drawn out as you go. One issue with those has been that the illustrations often go so fast that the viewer scarcely has time to take them in before the lesson moves on. This one wisely takes a slower pace that is perfect for the viewer.
    The content is also very carefully considered, as it builds from providing background to the issue at hand and its various ramifications. My only quibble, and it is a minor one, is that early in the animation evolution is introduced with the iconic (but instantly recognizable) picture of human evolution that we know is wrong. But on the whole this illustrated narration is done fabulously. If it were up to me I would give her top marks.

    1. Because I might have overblown my “pacing” (more like “delivery”) comments:

      “One issue with those has been that the illustrations often go so fast that the viewer scarcely has time to take them in before the lesson moves on. This one wisely takes a slower pace that is perfect for the viewer.”

      For the record, and as inconsistent as it might seem (vide infra), I agree strongly with this.

  19. Beautifully done, but I would highly suggest changing the depiction of evolution early in the film to something akin to a cladogram, rather than a linear progression of ape-like creatures. A proper understanding of evolutionary theory is fraught enough with misconceptions, there is no need to reinforce any. That is the only thing that jumped out at me, so again, beautifully done!

    1. Reading through some other comments, I now see that Mark Sturtevant also wisely made the same observation before me. Apologies for redundant commentary.

  20. Very impressive!

    Well paced presentation and really nice graphics — not too “busy” like these draw & talk presentation often tend to be (IMHO). Also the artwork is usually very scratchy in this style of presentation, but this was very aesthetically appealing in itself. (And attractive presentation makes information easier to take in.)

    The importance of variation is often missed in popular presentations of evolution, as is genetic drift. Did a fine job of using this practical example to show how evolution works, while simultaneously using the example to present the theory. And managed to show the importance and relevance of evolutionary theory.

  21. I didn’t comb through the comments. I had to listen through a bunch of noise.

    Good stuff: an intriguing story to be heard about bees. The bee thing comes up in the news and I know it’s interesting, but I can’t be bothered to read it unless the author is half-way reputable.

    Constructive criticism:

    When the whole draw-in-time-lapse-while-you-explain-stuff thing came out – I think Minute Physics founded this? – I thought “hm, that’s new”. Now it’s not new, and I’m a bit put off by it to the extent that I’ll not even bite if I can tell that’s what it is. However, Minute Physics is good usually, so they get a pass. What that all means is the only reason I watched it is because the WEIT writers chose to highlight it, and for a student to get feedback. I add that I think most people dig the time-lapse-draw-and-talk thing, so I’m just perhaps being a hipster here.

    It appears the artwork in this video was deliberately taken to a higher level than many of these whiteboard time-lapse talks, perhaps in a style commensurate with the whole garden-and-flowers scene, and it’s very pretty to watch.

    The cold-open is too jarring.

    Wasn’t clear that “our species” means not just species on the planet like bees, which the viewer knows this is about, but humans.

    I want to hear right in the first 20 seconds what I’m going to hear about – so a précis of the details about the ship voyage, NZ, Sweden, genetic drift … when that stuff shows up, I’m just getting lost. Remember the audience doesn’t want to re-watch it, especially as a Minute Physics style video.

    I felt a need to watch this again, possibly a third time. I’m not sure that’s good, or intended- it means I got lost.

    Subtle point – I’m a bit confused when the narrator’s voice takes on the – I don’t know, – “everyone has to be sad and gravely concerned” voice? I’ll have to find an example, but while I’m trying to figure out why the voice is like that, the details keep piling on… and I get lost. Of course I can go watch it again, but I think this is a single-serving video.

    I don’t intend to trash this work, I think it is very good – I hope my criticism helps! I hope the piece can be improved before a deadline – if it’s the final piece I think it is still high quality.

    1. I managed to watch a third time with quiet conditions. It was better.

      The stuff at the end – how it’s not about numbers but about keeping variation, how if animals are re- introduced they can continue evolving – there needs to be something at the beginning to set that up.

      Is all the Swedish bees do is serve as a reminder?

      Using “welcomed” for the 51 bees is confusing because I’m not sure how bad it was for them to come to England.

      Why pick Swedish bees? Did the “conservationists” do a massive genetic database search?

      The word “Conservationists” brings to mind good intentioned but non- professional activist groups – do you mean “scientists” or “biologists”?

      Hope that helps!

    2. about pacing, since I noticed some comments:

      it is too slow sometimes. Minute Physics is fast, but it’s tight – I think he really cuts everything- conceptually – close, and keeps it connected and continuous, revisiting concepts in a flash – but you’d have had it in your mind, so you go “oh, yeah right!”

      So I’d say, you MUST speed it up. I’m not in a seminar hall, relaxing with my coffee and cookie, feeling all cozy – I’m on YouTube looking for a bam-bam next-next thing before I get impatient and move to a bee video that delivers what it sells and keeps me going yep-yep-yep…


      1. “So I’d say, you MUST speed it up… I’m on YouTube looking for a bam-bam next-next thing before I get impatient and move to a bee video that delivers what it sells and keeps me going yep-yep-yep…”

        Well, I don’t. I liked the pacing. What you’re looking for runs completely opposite my tastes on You Tube.

        So it comes down to- who is the target audience and what did they think? That will determine if it was successful.

        1. “I liked the pacing … target audience”

          I agree to both, and watched a few more times by now. Perhaps “slow” or “fast” pace is hard to distinguish from “tight delivery”. But I still feel it’s for when I “have some time to spare”. Usually I don’t, but it happens.

          It bears staying : this is not a seminar, delivered to a room of attendees, expecting to be there for an hour or more, with Q&A afterwards, coffee, treats, etc., where the speaker can use pauses, breaks, lulls etc the same way. This is a YouTube video, deliberately short, with “competitors” like Veritasium and Minute Physics (my preferences). Those authors are onto something with their formula, as the prevelance of whiteboard videos has grown.

          Veritasium might give a better idea of how tight delivery – no teeny pauses which are equivalent to “um” or “as you can see”, etc. – can help the video come across strong. He also has clear setup so any pauses have a clear purpose.

          To make a stronger video – I’d treat dead space with extreme prejudice. Ask if you are merely hoping the viewer is mulling things over, or if there’s a good setup of ideas that compels the viewer to see what you have to say next. Hard to express this…

          Consider travelling while listening to a radio broadcast where you scan stations, and find something good – then, the speaker starts slowing down. Two or three times, and I don’t care how interesting it is, I switch. Personal, yes, maybe I’m neurotic, but I think it’s worth thinking about to make a stronger video.

  22. Really good presentation. I needed to double my usual volume setting to hear this easily. From my non-scientist’s point of view, this seems like a great reason to encourage human racial diversity. (I think ThyroidPlanet alluded to this point.)

  23. Beyond the much deserved compliments for a well done job, may I suggest a parting thought to the “footprint” of reintroduction? It we are going to have more than a “zoo in the wild” bumblebees need a minimum size of habitat to survive.

  24. Well fone, Izzy !!
    Too clear message about variation shrinking!

  25. At 0:46 minutes agriculture is blamed for wiping out “naturally occuring habitat”. Should that be changed to “animal agriculture” ? Vaclav Smil, in his book “Should we eat meat? Evolution and consequences of modern carnivory”, Wiley 2013, writes: “Most of the consequences of modern intensive crop cultivation .., should thus be attributed to meat production.”(p.146)
    It seems that people concerned about conservation should also look into adopting a vegan lifestyle. Not to speak of the ethics of eating animals. See Gary Francione and Anna Charlton’s “Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals”, 2013. (Or look at one of the videos on YouTube where Peter Singer explains the argument in his 1975 book “Animal Liberation.”

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