The Bee Population Decline: 10 Facts and Dangers
Scientists are worried about the possibility of mass extinctions of marine animals due to pollution, loss of habitat, and rising water temperatures. According to them, land species are increasingly threatened, as well. But perhaps the largest foreboding danger of all is the danger of bee population decline.
Why Are Bees Dying?
For years, scientists have been talking about the fact honeybees were dying. At first, no one knew why, but there are some theories about might contribute to the bee population decline. Meanwhile, the past winter brought some glimmers of hope, seeing that the number of bee deaths wasn’t as dramatic.
But the truth remains: Bees are still on the decline and not just one cause is to blame. Beekeepers are used to 5 or 10 percent of the bees dying every year, but for the past decade, losses skyrocketed to 30 percent. Since 2006, approximately 10 million beehives ($2 billion in estimated value) have been lost. The numbers were slightly lower during the 2014 winter, when beekeepers lost only 23 percent.
Today we’ll talk about some of the hot topics surrounding the bee population decline and see which claims are myths and which are facts.
1. We need honeybees.
Without a shade of doubt, bees – and other pollinators – are essential to our life on Earth. Bees alone are responsible for about one-third of the food we eat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honeybees contribute with $15 billion annually in value to American crops.
At the same time, commercial agriculture is highly depending on honeybees. Harvests of vegetables, fruits and nuts would fail without them. Oilseeds are also pollinated by bees, and oilseeds make up a lot of the world’s supply of fat. Plus, seeing that cotton is an oilseed, trouble for bees spells trouble for the cotton trade.
2. A bee-pocalypse would have dire effects.
In spite of the terms like “bee-gate” and “bee-pocalypse” used by the media, the bee population decline is not just there yet. However, the current situation is enough of a red flag, forcing scientists and industries to consider the consequences of a dying bee population.
Albert Einstein once remarked, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”
3. Insecticides pose risk to pollinators.
As the name indicates, insecticides are chemicals meant to kill insects. They are widely spread in the environment, affecting cropland areas everywhere. In the current chemical-intensive agriculture system, scientists are increasingly convinced that some insecticides are cause for negative effects on the health of pollinators.
4. Colony collapse disorder is happening less.
In 2006, the honeybee population faced a grave crisis in the U.S. A massive honeybee die-off ensued, causing a worrying bee population decline. The still-mysterious phenomenon was dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and scientists didn’t know what to make of the bees that simply abandoned the hive.
With CCD, the swarm simply vanishes, either in fall or winter. Few to no dead bee bodies were found – just an abandoned queen with a couple of nurse bees and the larvae. Fortunately, even though the disorder still occurs, scientists are positive it is happening less often.
5. Parasites and pathogens infest and kill hives.
Many of the beehives that died because of CCD were found to harbor varroa mites. Once rare, these tiny parasites now infest hives all over the world. They are responsible for causing two kinds of problems.
On one hand, the mites attach to the bees’ bodies and suck their fluids. This weakens the bees and puts a strain on their immune systems. On the other, the mite’s bite results in an open wound, a perfect gateway for the viruses to get in. This mix of viral infection and a compromised immune system can lead up to a lethal end.
6. Queen bee problems put strain on beehives.
In additional to industrial agriculture, CCD, and pathogens, bee populations are also threatened by various queen bee problems. Over the past few years, beekeepers have attributed a lot of the bee population decline to queen bees with short lifespans. Not only did they stop living as long, but they also run out of sperm supplies much earlier than before.
The queen mates just once in her life. The amount of sperm she gets determines the length of reign. In a healthy beehive, she should not have to be replaced for a few solid years. However, a shorter lifespan translates in less time for the queen to fertilize eggs.
Therefore, the next generation will have fewer worker bees, and that means poorer care for the new round of larvae. In turn, that means the existence of even fewer worker bees in the following generation.
7. Poor nutrition shortens bees’ lives.
Bees can take in a lot of stress and not die out. The only condition is to get enough good food. Unfortunately, given the increasing one-crop farmlands, bees don’t get the mix of plants they need for a healthy nutrition. In smaller crops, bees have enough time to forage for pollens in varied fields, which keeps them healthy.
8. Climate change is involved in bee population decline.
As we said before, the reasons for the disappearance of bees is multifold. Climate change – with its plethora of consequences – is partly to blame, say scientists. Extreme weather events, changes in rainfall patterns, and increasing temperatures – all of these factors will impact pollinator populations.
9. Europe regulation seeks to stifle potential risks.
In 2013, the European Union banned the use of neonics (a type of pesticides). The EU deemed they had enough evidence to prove neonics pose a high risk to bee populations. The ban will remain in place until scientists further determine whether or not this type of systemic pesticides is the reason for the bee population decline.
10. More efforts are required for immediate solutions.
When the EU banned the three most common neonics, the idea was to offer researchers more time to study the potential effects of these chemicals on bee health. However, in the United States, neonics are still used, as scientists argued the evidence was not enough to ban them. According to regulators, there’s concern that banning neonics will not guarantee to solve the bee problem.
No matter what the EU or the U.S. decide, the issue with bee population decline is real and we should be more interested in finding solutions. Share with us your thoughts on the matter in the comment section below.