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What Will Happen if Bees Become Extinct?
Why Are Our Bee's Dying?
What is Happening to the Bee Population?
Around 2006, scientists, entomologists and others began noticing a decline in the bee population. As the next few years progressed, the decline was referred to as a crisis; bees were dying off, and nobody knew why or how to stop it.
"Colony collapse disorder," a situation in which adult bees, crucial to the colony's survival, abandon the hive by either dying or flying off. The disorder was uncannily reminiscent of the mysterious disappearance of the Mayans centuries ago, and as the crisis continued, researchers scrambled to learn why our bees were declining and determine what to do.
Bees are far more than the subject of songs, the bane of outdoor picnics and the busy producers of the sweet stuff we all love, honey. They play an integral and critical role in sustaining our food supply by carrying pollen from one source to another. Without bees to fertilize plants, crops would decline. Without crops, well, you get the picture. The entire human race could be in serious trouble.
Read on, for more facts and details:
Why Do We Need Bees?
Colony Collapse | Why Bees are Dying
Although bee populations have grown and declined throughout history, the colony collapses in recent years has created more alarm than during previous such instances. By 2010, the decline in the bee population was a global concern, and in March 2011, the United Nations predicted yet further declines in the beloved insect that pollinates a huge percentage of the world's food crops.
In addition to reports of collapsed colonies, researchers began discovering a greater percentage of pesticides in wax samples, which further endangered both the bees and their ability to safely and effectively pass pollen from one plant to another.
In January of 2012, furthering its efforts to combat the decline, the USDA announced it would fund research to help create bee-friendly seed mixtures, which are expected to provide optimum habitats for native species of bees.
Answers to the problems will not be simple, nor will they be easy to target. Although it might seem that one good solution would work for all bees, that's not the case. The January 2012 USDA report mentions a decline in 4,000 species of bees native to North America. Each species can have its own characteristics, and the variety of solutions needed to halt the decline could be huge.
Specialized Pollinators: Some bees, it seems, are rather specialized. They might pollinate one type of flowering plant, but show no interest in visiting other types. This means that stopping the decline of one species of bees might help save some crops, but other crops could still suffer, because bees that pollinate those crops might still be on the decline.
Before you decide flowers aren't the issue, remember that many food plants, such as squash or pumpkin, form a flower as part of their growing process. We need those flowers, because we need the produce that comes later in the growing season.
By creating bee-friendly seeds, the USDA hopes to attract bees naturally to plants needing their assistance. But the varieties of produce are just as varied as the species of bees, so this approach will still require considerable time.
This Farmer Relies on Bees for his Buckwheat Crops
Video: Plant Reproduction System | How Pollination Works
Bee Keepers Ship Bees to Farmers to Provide Pollination
Years ago, we depended on bees to hang around the local neighborhood and spread the pollen. Not so today. With food being mass produced, many growing regions lack sufficient bee colonies to adequately pollinate crops.
How it works:
For many years, farmers have paid bee keepers to ship bees to the fields where they're needed. Sort of a rent-a-bee program where the same colony can travel many miles a year servicing fields all across the country. This allows mass food production, which in turn allows the mass grocery consumption we are so fond of in the United States and elsewhere.
Bees pollinate crops we consume directly, such as vegetables and other foods. But they, and other pollinators (bats, for example) also pollinate crops that help us indirectly by providing food for the grain that animals consume, or by pollinating plants used in clothing industries and elsewhere.
If we lose pollinators, we face a food crisis like none we've ever seen.
Bees Pollenate Flowers and Other Plants | This Bee is Pollenating Lavender Fields
What is Being Done to Save Pollenating Bees?
A recent report on The Status of Pollinators, by the National Research Council suggests several steps be taken to protect the pollinators we rely on for our food, such as bats, insects (including bees), birds and other animals. Bees (considered 'managed pollinators,' because they are commercially farmed and transported to various crops that are dependent on them for pollination) need disease controls during shipping to prevent illnesses and other conditions that can weaken a colony and the effectiveness of its bees.
The report also recommends improving communication channels for beekeepers to help them stay abreast of news related to the industry and situations that might harm their hives.
Wild pollinators, such as bats, birds and insects not purposely grown for such use, are harder to manage directly, and more challenging to help, since they migrate to areas that may or may not have the resources or political support to implement safeguards, controls or other steps that can protect the species.
The USDA funding mentioned above is approaching the problem from another direction, by making crops more attractive to pollinators.
Video About the Global Bee Crisis
Book on Natural History of Bees
What Will Happen to Honey Bees This Year?
Nobody has made a solid prediction yet. But the problem definitely needs to be identified and addressed. Scientists continue to dig for data that shows trends, and they search for diseases or other factors that might be contributing causes. The question remains, though, as to whether we have artificially engineered and chemically enhanced our way into a New World Order regarding the food supply and how we sustain life.
If the bee population can't be sustained (and preferably restored), do we find ourselves with less food to distribute to the growing millions who live on our planet? Do we learn to live with fewer food choices, because bees that pollinate certain plants have died off, thereby killing off that type of plant life? Or will we face both situations?
Will food, if it's available, skyrocket? (Probably, but I'm not an expert economist).
A study by Wellesley College,reveals the discovery of genetically diverse honey bees that have developed the ability to enhance their protection against pathogens. The diversity occurs in colonies where the queen bee has many male mates (rather than just a few), giving the colony a greater range of genetically transmitted protective abilities not found in more uniform colonies.
Early speculation is that bees in these newly discovered colonies might be hardier and more able to survive the changing conditions on our planet. This could make them sort of the 'bees of the future,' if true, and if (a crucial if), they multiply fast enough to compensate for the losses in recent years. Those are both huge 'ifs' at this point.
Meanwhile, pay attention to your own use of pesticides and other chemicals that can harm these precious insects. And watch the news as the story continues to unfold.
All photos credited to Marcy Goodfleisch are original and copyrighted. No reproductions or distribution may be made without her express permission. Contact Marcy Goodfleisch, MA, through the link provided on her profile for further information.