Honeybee Colony Collapse - An Example for Humans


Honey bees are indeed the unsung heroes of food production and the flora and fauna that supports life on this earth. Honeybees, bats, birds, butterflies, and bumblebees are all pollinators, however, honey bees alone are responsible for the pollination of more than 100 crops, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, providing 80 percent of the world’s pollination service. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), more than $15 billion worth of crops are pollinated by bees each year just in the United States alone and approximately one third of the global production volume of food crops depends upon these pollinators.

The thing that makes the honey bee valuable is their intelligence and ability to quickly pollinate large numbers of flowers over a wide area.  A honey bee's average flight radius from the hive is two miles, or 8000 acres, visiting about 50-100 flowers in each pollination trip. They can make up to 29 trips from and to the hive each day. A honeybee also recognizes symmetry, a trait that scientists typically associate with more intelligent life forms. They have an acute sense of smell, and they can remember and recognize patterns, such as the patterns of colors that are likely to be near good food sources. A bee which has found a good source of food will do a waggle dance once back in its colony to provide other members with information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers yielding nectar and pollen, to water sources, or to new housing locations.

Most plants rely primarily on flying bees or insects to aid in their pollination and that is why they produce nectar as a reward for the creature which will perform this job. In some plants the bee will unwilling collect pollen on hairs on its body when it is collecting nectar. On other plants the bee will intentionally collect pollen for its own consumption and for feeding and raising its brood (young) in the hive. While doing this daily chore, it will transfer a lot of pollen from one plant to the next allowing sexual reproduction to take place between the plants and also increase genetic diversity.

Virtually all of our non-grain foods are dependent on honey bee pollination to a large degree as close to one third of the food that we eat requires honeybee pollination. Apples, almonds, avocados, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, cucumbers, cranberries, cantaloupe, grapefruits, oranges, onions, pumpkins, peaches, pears, plums, watermelons, rapeseed and raspberries are some of the fruits and vegetables that require bees for pollination. Other than these there are several other plants required for animal feeds that also require bees for the same purpose. And not to forget other flora and fauna that benefit largely due to them. There has even been a number thrown out stating that humans will become extinct in 4 years if the bees become extinct.

The Colony collapse disorder is a frightening phenomenon of how mass deaths of bees have recently swept all over the world - most predominantly in America and Europe which first surfaced around 2005. According to the New York Times as many as 40 or 50 percent of commercial U.S. bee hives have been lost to colony collapse disorder. Beekeepers and some researchers had been saying that a powerful new class of pesticides known as Neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor. They are systemic pesticides, often embedded in seeds so that the plant itself carries the chemical that kills insects that feeds on it. Often they can be applied without spraying, by either treating seeds prior to planting or drenching the soil. Neonicotinoids are taken up by a plant's vascular system as it grows and are expressed through its tissues, including flowers, pollen and nectar.

The proof has come up in a recent study published on March 27th, 2013 in the journal Nature Communications which confirms that Neonicotinoids used by farmers to protect crops can scramble the brain circuits of honeybees, affecting memory and navigation skills needed to find food. This leads to profound implications for honeybee colony survival because bees that cannot learn will not be able to find food and perhaps not even find their way back home. Honey bees are social insects that rely heavily on memory, cognition and communication to coordinate activities essential for their survival.

A whopping 94 percent of all corn seeds in the U.S. are treated with neonicotinoids. Corn does not make nectar, but corn produces pollen, and bees eat it. Neonicotinoids also harm other beneficial insects, including bumblebees, butterflies, ladybug and lacewings, dragonflies and hoverflies. An evaluated report puts it – “honeybee losses can be interpreted as an ‘alarm bell’ of harm to other entomofauna [bugs] and indirectly to plants, birds, and other species.”

Although Neonicotinoids are the major culprits, they are not the only concern as all pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and GMO's immensely affect creatures that feed on them. According to Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives. All these chemicals harm bees’ immune system and with depressed immune systems, pathogens or parasites that might not otherwise kill bees now do.

The Economic impact of the bee colony collapse would mean inflation, scarcity of agricultural commodities, and ultimately the collapse of North American agriculture. But the bigger insight here for the non believers is that if these chemicals harms the bee’s nervous system - does it not affect humans in any way?