Honey, the Bees Aren’t Combing Back

Austin Hampton

 

It’s time to get serious about conservation efforts for pollinators. Bees, in particular, are vanishing, thanks to modern innovations directly impacting native populations around the world. Why should we care? Bees are a keystone species; their extinction will lead to the eradication of hundreds of other organisms. Loss of biodiversity is a big deal. Plants producing a wide variety of food and beverage products from blueberries to tequila have relied on bees to reproduce on a large scale. People may imagine the pollinators’ disappearance as a distant problem that won’t touch them, but this is an incorrect, privileged view. Plants depending on the work of these creatures consist of around 35% of global crop production, which values at around $577 billion dollars per year. The elimination of bees and other pollinators will have a negative effect on all of our wallets.

 

The Ecology Behind Climate Change

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Ecology allows us to view the impact industrialization has on fragile ecosystems. The ‘butterfly effect’ is a key factor in the discussion on bee devastation. If bees leave our world, a majority of flowering plants will follow. Animals that use these plants for food or shelter will go next, followed by any predators of these organisms. If we’re not careful, the list of extinctions may even include humans.

Although flowering plants open up at varying times throughout warmer parts of the year, most are reliant on the gradual increase of sunlight during the day as an indicator to produce pollen. Bees, like many other insect species, use temperature (93 F° inside hives) as a gauge for when to hatch from their eggs. Temperature and daylight have aligned closely over thousands of years. An increase in sunlight during the springtime has, historically, indicated longer days to enjoy endless amounts of pollen. As temperature increases through climate change, bees will begin to hatch earlier in response. Bees will die from the lack of pollen for nectar conversion, while flowering plants will perish without the necessary cross-pollination instigators. This is actually a possibility for upcoming generations, as the global surface temperature has increased around 1.33 degrees in the last century.

A Case Study on Pollution Enabling Climate Change

Populations began their steady decline with air pollution and the implementation of pesticides. For example, the country of China has serious issues with carbon emissions via coal production and unregulated pesticide usage. A study in China measured production levels in fruit trees with natural bee and insect populations compared with farms implementing the modern practice of relocating bees for pollination. The result was an increase in the production of fruit for farms that imported pollinators. This can be explained by the unnatural insect population’s lack of exposure to China’s pollution; those imported had not suffered the fatal repercussions of industrialization. Air pollution has been discovered to limit bees’ ability to forage. Insects are known to utilize “scent molecules” emitted from plants. Air pollution interferes with their innate ability to track specific locations of plants vital for the transfer of pollination. Chemical interactions within the air break down with the introduction of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere.

 

The Threat of Pesticides

Most scientists agree that the most crucial issue for bees and other pollinating insects is the modern invention of pesticides. Neonicotinoids, neuro-active insecticides with chemical properties similar to nicotine, act on receptors in the nerve synapse of invertebrates. This water-soluble pesticide washes away from farmlands during rainstorms and is taken up by other pollen-producing plants nearby. Considered a systemic pesticide for its ability to be absorbed into plants, the chemical has been heavily restricted in Europe due to studies revealing harmful consequences of its usage. Another controversial pesticide ingredient is glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Round-Up, which kills most weeds and forms of bacteria on crops. Glyphosate eliminates beneficial bacteria that enable honeybees to digest nectar; the chemical also disorients them during foraging, making bees unable to relocate flower patches while also becoming easier targets for predation. We have yet to create an insecticide that can promote itself as a safe alternative for most pollinators, although organic-labeled pesticides are the best option on the market.

How to Get Involved Locally

If you’re looking for organizations to support or get involved with, check out Bee Safe Boulder within the larger movement, People & Pollinators Action Network. Bee Safe Boulder looks to educate citizens on the dangers faced by pollinators.  The program also works with local businesses through outreach campaigns, encouraging them to take the Pollinator Safe Business Pledge. ‘People & Pollinators’ is a statewide movement of environmentalists advocating for the safety of moths, butterflies, bees, birds, and bats within Colorado. They have home tips for creating a pollinator safe garden, as well as organizing opportunities to promote or protest certain legislation on local issues involving these creatures.

 Resources

To learn more on Colony Collapse Disorder

To learn about Neonicotionids

To learn how Climate Change is Influencing Pollinators, Forests, and Farm Interactions

To learn about Air Pollution’s relation to Bee Foraging