Bees flitting from one newly sprouted flower to another as they collect pollen is one of the more common sights of the spring. Honeybees are content to buzz between plants for hours. But in recent years the honeybee population has declined considerably, and scientists and environmentalists continue to study and debate why bees seem to be dying out.
Although bees are best known for their honey production, their symbiotic relationship with nature goes much further. Honeybees are instrumental in transferring pollen from plant to plant, which helps to foster new life for many agricultural species. In addition to wild flowers and other plants, bees pollinate many of the crops that end up as food on dinner tables across the globe. Bees help pollinate more than 90 commercially grown field crops, citrus and other fruit crops, vegetables and nut crops. Without these insects, crop yields would decrease dramatically, and some foods may cease to exist. Without bees, food production would diminish and the prices of produce would skyrocket.
Commercial beekeepers in the United States have reported deaths of tens of thousands of honeybee colonies. Ninety percent of wild bee populations in the United States have disappeared, according to Target Health, Inc. In the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, bee species have declined considerably, and some have even become extinct.
Since 2006, millions of honeybees have died off due to a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. CCD refers to the absence of adult honeybees in a colony with few or no adults remaining. Worker bees simply disappear, leaving behind the queen and vulnerable developing young. Bees are not usually known to leave the hive unguarded. While similar disappearances have been documented in the last 100 years, those incidences have grown considerably in recent years.
Officials in the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have not been able to determine why the honeybee population has undergone such a steep decline, though some believe that a complex combination of factors, including parasites, lack of genetic diversity, poor nutrition, and pesticides, could be responsible. Examination of dead bees has found residues of more than 100 chemicals, insecticides and pesticides, including some used to control parasites, in bee hives.
Other factors that come into play involve climate changes that affect wildflower production. Without wildflowers, bees have no sources of food. Rainy, wet or overly dry weather can wreak havoc on the landscape, resulting in fewer flowers and, as a result, a smaller bee population.
Scientists are still studying the situation and working toward a solution to restore the honeybee population. Individuals can do their part by keeping plenty of blooming flowers in their yards and never killing honeybees found on their property. Disturbing an established hive can result in the bees abandoning their work, leading to even greater losses. TF143020
CAPTION: Honeybees pollinate many of the world’s plants. But their numbers are on the decline, and the environmental impact of that decline is significant.