Honeybees are Dying - and Why You Should Care
As you may have heard, Honeybees of the world are in trouble. Nearly one in three commercial honeybee colonies in the United States died or disappeared last winter, an unsustainable decline that threatens the nation’s food supply. But not only is it in the United States, honeybee colonies have suffered severe losses all over the world - including in Canada, China, Europe, Israel and Turkey.
Multiple factors, including pesticides, fungicides, parasites, viruses and malnutrition are believed to cause the losses.
“We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands,” said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.
Beekeepers lost 31 percent of their colonies in late 2012 and early 2013, roughly double what’s considered acceptable attrition through natural causes. The losses are in keeping with rates documented since 2006 (image above, Image: Engelstorp et al.), when beekeeper concerns prompted the first nationwide survey of honeybee health. Hopes raised by drop in rates of loss to 22 percent in 2011-2012 were wiped out by the new numbers.
Many other factors besides chemicals are at play, for example: rising food prices led farmers to plant crops in fields previously considered marginal or set aside as grasslands. Honeybees forage in those grasslands, and can’t get the nutrition they need from flowering crops alone.
Add the record-setting drought of summer 2012, and bees were hard-pressed for nourishment. Malnourishment could in turn make bees more vulnerable to pests and infections, or exacerbate the effects of pesticides.
Why You Should Care: One in every three bites [of food consumed in the U.S.] is directly or indirectly pollinated by bees. That’s insane, just let that sink in for a moment - bees are involved in the process of pollinating 1/3 of the food in this country. As the years progress, we’re getting closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees to support our massive food production.
Commercial bees pollinate dozens of crops, and though colonies can be replaced, continuing losses could soon render beekeeping economically unviable. Researchers are trying to breed more resilient bees, but the combination of chemicals, nutrition and disease will likely prove insurmountable by genetic improvements alone.
The honeybee catastrophe could also signal problems in other pollinator species, such as bumblebees and butterflies, that are not often studied.
Source: Wired, IBRA, Flickr
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