bee populations are suffering significant decline and rather than a single
cause, it seems to be the result of multiple factors working in concert. The
U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a report
in 2012 citing a “complex set of stressors and pathogens," and calling
"multi-factorial approaches to studying causes of colony losses," yet
stopped short of making any policy recommendations. The EPA has, sadly,
been woefully lackadaiscal in taking steps to stem the problem. Perhaps
that will change with the recent momentous suit filed by beekeepers and environmental groups against it for failing to protect bee populations.
40 percent of U.S. domesticated hives did not survive this past winter, making
it the worst loss to date. Far more than just giving us honey, bees are a crucial player in our food production;
they are responsible for pollinating many flowering plants--by some
estimates, almost one out of every three bites
of food that we eat was produced with the help of these natural pollinators. Cashews,
beets, broccoli, cabbage, watermelons, cucumber, strawberries, macadamia,
mangoes, apricots, almonds are just a few of many of the delicious crops our
six-legged worker friends toil on.
bees are not the only ones being affected either—wild bee populations have
decreased by an alarming 90% over the last 50 years. The ecological
implications are nearly catastrophic; so are the resultant economic and food
supply concerns. The World Conservation Union predicts that 20,000 flowering
plant species will disappear
in the next few decades as a result of bee losses.
die-off is in part attributed to the appropriately-ominously-named phenomenon
of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in which bees fly off en masse and never
return to their hive. Climate change, habitat destruction, pesticides, and
disease all seem to have an influence on the occurrence of CCD and are factors
that often interplay with each other--the worldwide bee
population decline speaks to the multiplicity of causes not endemic to specific regions.
change and habitat destruction are affecting ecosystems as a whole and bees in
particular. Erratic weather patterns have an indelible effect on the schedule of
flowering plants. Plants may blossom early, before honeybees can fly, or may
not produce flowers at all, resulting in no pollen for the bees.
impact of pesticides on bee depopulation has been widely examined by researchers.
Jeff Pettis of USDA's Agricultural Research Service and his
team found that a pesticide called imidacloprid is weakening the bees' immune
systems and allowing infections
to spread through hives. Another group of pesticides, extremely commonly-used
worldwide, the neonicotinoids, chemically-related to nicotine, could harm bees
by disrupting the navigational and learning abilities they use to find flowers
and make their way back to the hive. The neonicotinoids have often been likened
to "nerve agents" for the neuroactive effects they have on bees. In a
landmark move, the European Union passed a measure last month to provisionally ban
the use of neonicotinoids for the next 2 years. By contrast, the EPA continues to
greenlight chemicals widely recognized even by the EPA itself as “highly toxic
to bee health,” allowing the use of the pesticide sulfoxaflor manufactured by
the Dow Chemical Company.
addition to their neuroactive effects, pesticides also tie into another element
in the explanatory chain--disease--by decreasing pathogen resistance. The
blood-sucking parasite, the Varroa mite, is one of the most virulent pests of
bee colonies. It is dangerous not only in its own right, but also in that
exposes hives to other viruses too. Another suspect is the Bt (Bacillus
thuringiensis) toxin in the pollen of genetically modified corn, which
German scientists found compromised bee immune systems. The bacterial disease
foulbrood is yet another pathogen.
worldwide are astir about the danger of bee extinction and the buzz
is certainly gaining in volume, with many states,
,passing measures to ban the use of certain pesticides. Clearly, the battle
against CCD will have to be waged on a multiplicity of fronts.