What’s Going on in Honey Bee Colonies Worldwide?
Honey bees are continently exposed to numerous threats: pests and parasites (such as the Varroa mite or Nosema), bacterial diseases (foulbrood), fungal diseases (chalkbrood), viral diseases (invertebrate iridescent virus – IIV), and pesticides. Now honey bees are facing an even greater risk: Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD), a little understood phenomenon in which worker bees from a colony abruptly disappear. Today, the disappearance of honey bees has transformed into a global epidemic, negatively affecting ecosystems in a multitude of environments. Since 2006, North American migratory beekeepers have seen an annual 30 percent to 90 percent loss in their colonies; non-migratory beekeepers noted an annual loss of over 50 percent. Similar losses were reported in Canada, as well as several countries in Europe, Asia, and Central and South America.
Why Are Bees Dying & What is Causing this Epidemic?
Because there are no bee bodies to examine, scientists are unable to determine the exact cause of death. Initial hypotheses were wildly different including environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition, pathogens (i.e., disease including Israel acute paralysis virus), mites, pesticides such as neonicotinoids or imidacloprid, radiation from cellular phones or other man-made devices, and genetically modified crops with pest control characteristics such as transgenic maize. Now mostscientists believe that CCD is the result of an unfortunate combination of many factors all of which work to increase the honey bee’s stress and reduce its immune system.
Why Should We Care?
The impact honeybees have on the human population and the environment is far more crucial than we may think. Agricultural crops rely on honeybees worldwide to provide them with life and guarantee their reproduction. Bees facilitate pollination for most plant life, including well over 100 different vegetable and fruit crops. Without bees, there would be significantly less pollination, which would result in limited plant growth and lower food supplies. According to Dr. Albert Einstein, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination…no more men”. Bees’ eradication affects us more than we may think.
What Are Scientists Doing to Help?
Because a honey bee population collapse would mean an agricultural catastrophe, scientists have been working overtime in an attempt to determine the cause of CCD. Sceintists have linked CCD to many factors including the Varroa mite and Nosema. Recently, a Harvard biologist published a study directly linking the pesticide imidacloprid. Still the consensus is that multiple factors are to blame which is why many scientists are looking at ways to improve a honey bees health as the potential solution.
How Can We Help?
One of the easiest ways to help rejuvenate the honeybee population is to respect honeybees. Learning to preserve beehives and embrace bees’ roles in our ecosystem can be challenging, but the bees have a job to do and threatening their quality of life will consequentially threaten everyone’s. There are also proactive ways to encourage the regrowth of honeybee colonies. Plant bee-attracting flowers, sponsor honeybee research, or even become a beekeeper. Join a local beekeepers’ association to become better informed about the care and keeping of honeybees and other steps you can take to stimulate colony growth and combat CCD.