The rapid decline of the honeybee: Time for a plan bee

Lauren Savana, Centurion Staff

Over the past century there has been a radical and unprecedented decline in the populations of honeybees.
Bees are a vital organism as the primary pollinator of native plants and cultivated crops. Their steady decline is a desperate cry for help to the ones destroying their population, humans.
The Journal of Natural and Environmental Sciences (JONAES) reported that from 1945 to 2005 bee colonies have decreased from around 6 million colonies to less than 3 million colonies.
It’s more than just the U.S. The honeybee is disappearing globally.
There has been a 25 percent loss of commercial honeybees in Europe since 1985 and a 45 percent loss in the UK since 2010.
Bees are responsible for pollinating around 70 percent of the world’s crops.
JONAES conducted a study finding “that on average about one in every three bites of food humans consume has been pollinated by a bee.”
From a global standpoint, bees and other insects alike are responsible for a third of the world’s food pollination.
A world without bees and other pollinators would be devastating for food production.
It’s a common misconception that bees just make honey.
They also provide a valuable pollination service. “Vegetables like zucchini, fruits like apricot, nuts like almonds, spices like coriander, edible oils like canola, and many more…In Europe alone, the growth of over 4,000 vegetables depends on the essential work of pollinator,” reported by GreenPeace, an organization in Europe dedicated to saving the honeybee.
So if the bees were to become extinct, who would pollinate the world’s crops?
Hand-pollination is labor extensive, slow, and extremely costly.
From an economic standpoint “bee’s pollination work has been estimated around $298 billion annually, worldwide,” GreenPeace reported.
Not only do the bees support human food consumption, they work for humans, playing their essential role in the ecosystem.
There are several major causes for the rapid bee decline. The first and most detrimental being insecticides.
Since the early 1990s these chemicals, as the name indicates, are designed to kill insects. They have become widely applied in cropland areas, more specifically genetically modified crops.
Genetically modified farming is constantly creating stronger and more lethal insecticides as insects attempt to build a tolerance to these chemicals.
“It is becoming increasingly evident that some insecticides, at concentrations applied routinely in the current chemical-intensive agriculture system, exert clear, negative effects on the health of pollinators – both individually and at the colony level,” Green Peace reported.
Climate change also plays a major role in the global bee decline. The loss of habitat, biodiversity, and lack of forage directly threaten honeybees and other pollinators.
For the bees that do serve the insecticides and destruction of their habitat show severe physiological effects. “This occurs at multiple levels, and have been measured in terms of development rate, and malformation rates,” BBC News reported in their article Bee decline linked to falling biodiversity.
The time it takes for a bee to reach adulthood and the time it takes for cells to produce inside the hive are slowing.
David Aston from the British Beekeepers’ Association explains how the loss of diversity in plants and food may be connected to the bee decline.
“If you think about the amount of habitat destruction, the loss of biodiversity, that sort of thing, and the expansion of crops like oilseed rape, you’ve now got large areas of monoculture; and that’s been a fairly major change in what pollinating insects can forage for.”
Aston explains that if bees don’t have access to a variety of pollens their immune systems weaken, causing bees to have less of a survival rate.
There are many solutions to help stunt the bee decline. Action needs to be taken on a global and, maybe even more importantly, on a local level.
There is an urgent global need to stop chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and to move towards ecological and organic farming. “Ecological farm ensures healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow by protecting soil, water and climate, and promotes biodiversity,” GreenPeace states on their website.
Ecological farming doesn’t contaminate the environment with chemical inputs like pesticides or genetically modified organisms.
Throughout Europe, ecological farming is widely used. Experienced farmers, scientists, and eco-entrepreneurs are all dedicated to ending the bee population decline with supporting their own beehives and planting native plants in their backyards.
There are plenty of people in the U.S doing their part as well. At Bucks there are students that are dedicated to being a part of the solution. Mal Thomas, 19, from Plumsteadville, has started keeping her own bees once she learned about the issue.
Buzzing Across America, an organization of 200,000 beekeepers, are also playing their role in helping with the bee population.
One of those members, Lauren Nemuth, owns several acres in Bucks County with over 300 colonies. She says, “We need the bees just as much as they need us. I’m happy to help them, no matter how small my contribution is. If everyone contributed something, we could make a huge difference.”
Caryn Babaian, a biology professor at Bucks, gives her opinion on how we can all be apart of helping the honeybee and the environment as a whole, “I think we will have to use less and innovate more and become more creative like nature, giving back, not just taking. Ecological systems have to renew themselves and we are not giving them that chance.”
Babaian gives a final piece of advice. “I have a friend who raised monarch butterflies and other species last summer. She let her yard and garden go ‘native,’ and it was shockingly beautiful with dandelions, clover, queen’s Ann’s lace, and of course milkweed, and it was amazing to see how quickly the pollinators returned. The health of the soil returned, wildlife and birds returned, and the web in that small space brought itself back and reemerged whole. If everyone did this, it would be an actual change you could see and relate to.”