Imagine all of the fruits and veggies you like, that favorite cotton shirt of yours, a warm cup of coffee in the morning. Without bees you could say goodbye to some of these everyday favorites. Bees are responsible for pollinating so much more than we realize (Shanker). On a global scale pollinators effect eighty-five of the top one-hundred and fifteen food crops, which equivalates to thirty-five-percent of global food production (Fact Sheet). Their pollination also has a huge impact economically (ARS). This pollination is responsible for twenty-four billion dollars to the United States economy alone (Fact Sheet). It is responsible for more than fifteen billion dollars in increased crop value each year globally (Kaplin). All over the world farmers have been noticing a high rise in beehive losses (The Bees in Decline). These large declines not only hurt the farmer’s profit, but also on a larger scale the trade economy. Scientists have named these large die offs Colony Collapse Disorder. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a syndrome defined as a dead colony with no adult bees or dead bee bodies but with a live queen (ARS). The decline of bee populations around the world is an issue that can not go unnoticed. How can the U.S. and other countries stop the declining population of bees?
We need to take some responsibility for our actions and help out the bees for once. Many are trying to figure out a way to stop CCD and help restore bee populations. Europe has placed a two-year ban on the pesticides, known as neonicotinoids (Jolly). America is attempting to rebuild land strictly for bee habitats. (“The World is finally trying to save the bees”) The UK is debating the creation of a superbee, a genetically modified specimen made to withstand the things that are killing it (Woody). The decline in the bee population can be solved by replacing destructive industrial farming with ecological farming.
These losses in bee populations should not go unnoticed, one-third of the average human diet is due to pollination by bees (Save the Bees). Though there is no one solid reason as to why the bees are dying off, scientists have found many of the dead colonies to have been affected by Colony Collapse Disorder. Colony Collapse Disorder is when a nest or hive that has a live queen and honey but no worker or adult bees (ARS). This syndrome tells scientists that something is affecting the bee populations. Researchers have studied this particular disorder and have found no sure cause. There are a bunch of varying factors that cause these massive losses (Richards, 15). Destructive industrial agriculture is one of the main contributors of CCD. As industrial agriculture works to meet the need of consumers they forget the ecological footprint they are leaving behind (Turner). Pesticides and insecticides are being used on almost everything bees pollinate in the agricultural industry (Turner). Studies have been shown that the pesticides known as neonicotinoids are causing the bees to get confused and lose their way home, causing a large portion of the deaths linked with CCD. (EU Study). Another huge impact of industrial agriculture is the amount of habitat losses that is occurring in the masses. As monocultural agriculture gets ever more popular and urbanization simplifies landscapes, bees lose much of the area where they would have pollinated and nested (Shanker). This forces huge numbers of colonies to either move or starve due to the lack of nutrients around them, causing large portions of land to not have the pollinators they need. Of course there are natural factors affecting the bees as well. Pathogens and Parasites are another contributing factor to CCD. Varroa mites are frequently found in hives with CCD and have been known to transmit viruses to bees, inevitably leading in entire colony losses (ARS). Nosema, a pathogenic gut fungi, Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus and various other pathogens are contributing factors often found in colonies affected by CCD (ARS). These natural occurrences can completely wipe out colonies in a matter of weeks (Richards, 30). From all the chemical waste and omission from these industrial agriculture plants we see the effect of climate change is also affecting the bees and their ability to live. The extreme and erratic weather events impact the pollinator populations, by modifying flowering patterns, changing what the bees initially know best (Bees in Decline). Climate change leads to shifts in flowering plants and insect pollinators, causing mismatches between plant and pollinator populations, this can lead to the extinction of the pollinators (Bellard). Fifty-percent of pollinator species will suffer from food shortages due to the temporal mismatch of their flight activity times with flowering of food plants (Plan Bee). This is yet another thing affected by the negligence to our earth and our lack of consciousness about it.
People are finally starting to realize just how much of an impact these pollinators have on our lives. Measures are finally being taken across the globe to ensure the safety of the bees and to help protect them for years to come. Europe is actively trying to stop the decline of bees and has put a ban on three of the pesticides known as neonicotinoids-clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. Neonicotinoids are pesticides that attach themselves to the inside of the plant’s vascular system and travel through it. This pesticide will cause the entire plant to be coated in toxins. (Bees in Decline) There have been multiple studies on the effects of these specific pesticides, and many others on bees. Some of these effects that impact a bee include bees getting lost when coming back to the hive. This happens by a bee having the inability to navigate efficiently. Bees will also be affected by an impairment of learning ability, which will cause an increased mortality, and dysfunctional development. (Bees in Decline) The EU has a two-year ban in place to see if stopping the use of these chemicals will improve bee populations. One part of the ban was that the chemicals would be restricted to professional growers. This will eliminate the danger that home gardeners would unwittingly wreak havoc on bee colonies, and are only to be used on crops deemed low danger for bees. (Jolly) Many scientists are nervous as to if this ban is going to give researchers the information they need. Though the ban started, the seeds for that year’s harvest had already been soaked and planted months ago, and neonicotinoids can persist in the soil for years(Smith). Thus making the study almost invalid. If your testing whether or not the pesticides affect bees you need to have a clean source for these bees to visit. Another reason for this short ban was to act as a lever so that Europe could push for more time and possibly a more permanent solution (Smith). At this point in time they are not really sure what the outcome might be after the ban, but Europe knew they had to do something to stop bees from dying off. (Jolly) So we have to pose the question, after this ban is up what is next?
This is a global issue and the United States is trying to do their part in saving the declining bee population as well, by attempting to rebuilding habitats. The Obama administration made 7 million acres of federal land more friendly to bees (Shanker). Though this does not even touch the amount of land taken from the bees, it is a start. Protecting and restoring remnant serpentine and calcareous grasslands, pine-oak barrens, and wet meadows may be important for protecting populations of rare pollinators (Habitat Restoration). These environments promote healthy bee living and provide the perfect place for repopulation. These measures are great for bees and other suffering pollinators and a great place to start but compared to the gigantic feats against the bees from the agriculture industry this simple act just will not be enough.
The UK is also getting involved in helping the bees. They have been focusing on more scientific ways of saving our pollinators. The creation of the Superbee is something that many researchers are contemplating. They want to create a healthier, stronger bee that would be mite resistant (Woody). A more hygienic bee is also in the works, the more it cleans itself the less likely mites and other pests are to attach themselves (Woody). Though this is impressive and hopeful the possibility of completely switching to these genetically modified bees would be a feat in itself. Also the measures going about to achieve this bee are insane, the man behind this new discovery has been experimenting with bees to find the right combination. It does not stop there after he finds the right bee he wants to kill off all of the existing bees and replace them with his (Jolly). There also is no guarantee that their resistance will protect themselves against mites, especially since they can adapt and become more advanced like their new bee counterpart. With such a ludicrous idea and lack of support from scientific communities, is it worth the money and research?
I am proposing a solution that will protect and help the bees without completely changing them as a species and giving them a safe habitat to live and work. Switching to entirely ecological farming is the only way to safely and effectively save the bees. Ecological farming is all natural farming, leaving mother nature to fix herself with some slight help from humans. Natural farming means no pesticides, thus creating a healthy and safe living environment for the bees (McClain, 965). This allows for bees to work at the best of their ability, providing the most rewards for us and the environment. Natural types of farming promote habitat heterogeneity, which is incredibly beneficial to not only the bees but the environment as well (Patricio, 610). Habitat heterogeneity is when you have multiple different plants growing in an environment, thus bringing a diverse and healthier plant selection (Patricio, 611). Here we gain the most we can from our busy helpers as they have more things to help grow, providing more plants in these habitats that build up our ecosystem. Ecological pest control can also be developed to protect hives (Save the Bees). Ecological farming is the solution to save the bees as it is the only one to prevent the possible causes of CCD.
One of the most important factors of Ecological farming is the use of no pesticides. Pesticides and specifically neonics, are incredibly dangerous for bees and various other vital insects (McPherson). There are many studies that show that if exposed, these chemicals are highly toxic and will kill bees (McPherson). Even at small amounts, these chemicals will change the behavior of bees. This will cause them to have fewer babies, and they will not be able to forage as well (McPherson). Ridding plants of pesticides, Scientist at Harvard found that hives of bees exposed to two forms of neonics were much more vulnerable to Colony Collapse Disorder than unexposed hives (Turner). Though we do need to look at the effects of this new lack of pesticides on the crop fields. One major outcome will be the reduction of crop yields in the first stages, as this method takes hold some crops will be lost due to the variant pests, but as time goes on we will see a resistance forming against these intruders (Restmeyer). Studies have shown hives that are in areas free of pesticides thrive and flourish (Save the Bees). Without these toxins plaguing our pollinators they will become healthier and more productive. In return helping us and our environment along the way.
Habitat heterogeneity is another huge factor of ecological farming. Habitat heterogeneity is a hypothesis that states an increase in habitats can lead to an increase in species diversity. (Cramer, 743). Researchers have found that an ecological mixed-cropping systems can provide additional flower resources for pollinators (Bees in Decline). Studies that report the effect of habitat degradation upon plant-pollinator interactions was debilitating to both parties and the importance of the presence of native vegetation remnants with new resources had the best outcomes for the small ecosystem as a whole (Patricico, 605).
Ecological farming plants are being affected now by losing the strength and intensity from modern day pesticides to protect them. Though there is an answer for that as well under this wide umbrella of a solution. Ecological pest control is in its developing stages, but is already safer and is becoming as effective as the average pesticide (Restmeyer). Studies have shown providing insects with new breeding habitats, adds to the diversity and ecological balance. Then eliminating most pests before they reach infestation levels (Restmeyer). There is also scientific development of wildflower seed mixes that are specifically tailored to meet the requirements of bees and of species that help in pest control (Plan Bee). These solutions may require more work and time but they are entirely necessary in keeping our pollinators safe. We always doubt the power of nature, when truly it always finds a way to fix itself.
Imagine again that hot coffee, the cotton shirt, your favorite fruits and vegetables, we need bees to make these things possible. Ecological farming is the solution to ensure the safety of our pollinators. Without this switch the declining population of bees will continue and then we will truly see how much these insects do for us. Not only does the lack of bees affect the agricultural industry and us as consumers but also our world globally. A third of our diet comes from the work of bees and this is a billion dollar industry we are risking on the line. Without bees the entire ecosystem gets thrown out of sync, thus we lose out on the diversification, weakening our planet.There are measures even your average Joe could meet to help save the bees, some include planting friendly flowers in your yard or buy fruits, vegetables and honey from your local farmer’s market. These small steps help contribute to the efforts of men and women around you to help our pollinators. This is not an issue that we should let sit for long, the more bee lives we lose the worse off we are.
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