Thursday, May 28, 2015

Spike in bee die-off

Time now again for Science Friday.

Extinction just seems to keep marching closer for bees.

An annual report released two weeks ago noted that there was a sharp increase in honeybee deaths in the past year. It was, in fact, the second highest drop in the population since 2010. What the study found especially shocking was the fact that there were more bee deaths during the summer than the winter. That's a first.

There has yet to be a conclusive, definitive answer as to why this phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder is occurring. Current leading culprits include malnutrition. Thousands of acres of land that once contained clover and wildflowers have been plowed under to create greater farmland, thus taking advantage of higher crop prices and feeding a rising population. Pesticides are not helping, either. A class of pesticide known as neonicotinoids is widely used in the U.S. Europe, on the other hand, has already banned several variations of these chemicals for use on flowering plants, citing concern for the bee population.

Another more ghoulish factor is a parasite known as varroa destructor. This is a mite that attacks honeybees directly within the colonies. As parasites are known to do, the varroa suck the "blood" from adult bees while laying their eggs on bee larva. Infestations of this sort have already been found as the cause of colony collapses in Ontario, Canada and in Hawaii. As the New York Times article reports, this is most likely to be a problem in backyard beekeeping.

Why should we care about bees? Well, a couple of reasons, several of which I believe I have addressed before right on these very pages. First off, we need bees. The industry of agriculture depends upon bees to pollinate plants and help produce yield. In short, the bees help feed us and many other species.

I also view this as symbolic, as indicative of a larger problem stemming from our own behavior. The New York Times article states that "bees are not in danger of extinction" but I am not so sure. What in our world is not in danger of extinction if we keep behaving the way that we do? If we have little to no regard for our environment, when exactly will that catch up with us?

The answer is probably "sooner than any of us would like."

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  1. On FB, Bernard said: "That's gonna sting."

  2. Yes. Especially if it costs more to feed our families.