by Susanne Posel
Researchers at Emory University and the University of California have studied bumblebees in Colorado and discovered that the most devastated impact is felt in the plants that are dying because of lack of pollination.
At a laboratory in Crested Butte, Colorado, Berry Brosi and Heather Briggs were assisted by numerous assistants who analyzed how species of bumblebees and utilized algorithms to assert that if other surviving species of bumblebees were to “pick up the slack”. Plant life would be able to recover.
It appears that bumblebees discriminated against a specific species of flower; the purple wildflower called Delphinium barbeyi (a type of larkspur).
Species of plant life have been in decline because of the sudden lack of bees worldwide.
Brosi explained : “We found that the remaining bee species in the system did become more generalized. They were actually showing lower floral fidelity. Even over a single foraging trip, they were visiting multiple species of plants more often.”
Briggs pointed out: “We literally just run around and remove every individual of that species. We feel like we get around 95%-99% of them out. That’s possible because there are nests around the area, and once you deplete those numbers, maybe a few will come in, but that’s it for that area. So it’s actually feasible, even though it sounds crazy.”
In 2011, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) released a report that identified an estimated “dozen factors, ranging from declines in flowering plants and the use of memory-damaging insecticides to the world-wide spread of pests and air pollution, may be behind the emerging decline of bee colonies across many parts of the globe.”
In the report, several eky issues were mentioned:
• Viral fungal pathogens were destroying the bee colonies
• Migration of bees globally was observed
• Globalization of trade impacted bees
• Speices of plants are dying
• “Systemic insecticides” were causing toxicity in bees
• Climate change is disturbing flowering times
• Climate change is causing less quality pollen to be produced by flowers
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UNEP stated that “the way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century. The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees. Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to seven billion people.”
Steiner spoke at the 2012 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro wherein he explained: “Rio+20 is an opportunity to move beyond narrow definitions of wealth and to bring the often invisible, multi-trillion dollar services of nature-including pollination from insects such as bees- into national and global accounts. Some countries, such as Brazil and India, have already embarked on that transformation as part of a partnership between UNEP and the World Bank. It is time to widen and embed this work across the global economy in order to tip the scales in favor of management rather than mining of the natural world and that includes the services of pollinators.”
A team of researchers at the Washington State University (WSU) have imported bee sperm from the European honeybee for storage and future fertilization.
Scientists want to fertilize American queen bees with European bee sperm to genetically engineer bees that are more resilient to a mysterious condition that coerces worker bees to abandon their hives to die.
The theory is that with this genetic manipulation, stronger bees can be created that will lead to healthier American insects.
The sperm that is not used in these experiments will be frozen for future use.
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) 33% of hives in captivity have died annually. At this rate, it is assumed that pollination would become scarce, forcing prices of food production to rise and crops to become vulnerable such as berries and broccoli because they are dependent on bee pollination.
Since 2008, the USDA has allowed the importation of semen that is screened for viruses to be used to assist insect colonies with the use of genetic manipulation.
Coined colony collapse disorder (CCD) the phenomenon wherein bee colonies simply disappear have had bee-keepers concerned across the globe.
CCD is described as a “mysterious” disease wherein “the main symptom is simply a low number of adult bees in the hive. There are no bodies, and although there are often many disease organisms present, no outward signs of disease, pests, or parasites exist. Often there is still food in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present. The cause of the loss of bees seems to be the sudden early death, in the field, of large numbers of adult workers.”
There is a “ growing body of research suggests that sublethal exposure to the pesticides in nectar and pollen may be harming bees too — by disrupting their ability to gather pollen, return to their hives and reproduce.”
The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report that stated neonicotinoids are a factor in the disappearance of various honey bees.
There is an accord that “a complex set of stressors and pathogens is associated with [colony collapse disorder], and researchers are increasingly using multi-factorial approaches to studying causes of colony losses.”
• Varroa mites still “remains the single most detrimental pest of honey bees, and is closely associated with overwintering colony declines.”
• Viruses, bacterial diseases and poor nutrition are impacting bee colonies and their longevity.
The report states that pesticides are part of the problem, but not the whole of the influence on CCD.
When bees are exposed to pesticides through direct spraying or indirect contact, they exhibit specific reactions:
• Dead bees surrounding the outside of the hive
• Dead bees with proboscis
• Dying bees twitching or spinning in circles
• Substantial drops in hive population or loss of the entire hive