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Imagine walking into the grocery store, but instead of seeing aisles full of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, only fifty percent of the usual produce is available. Not only is produce less available, but the quality also has severely declined. This will be the norm if bees keep declining at the rate they are now. Since the end of World War ll, there has been over 50% decrease in the bee population, dropping from four million colonies to now only around one and a half million. If this continues, the human population will lose a majority of the foods that we are used to. In the article “What Would Happen if all the Bees Went Extinct” by AC Shilton, he states that “one analysis of the global crop market found that pollinators are essential or highly, moderately, or slightly necessary for all crops consumed by humans.” Some of those crops include apples,plums, almonds, peaches, and cherries. The main causes of this major population decline are changes in farming, industrial agriculture, and pesticide use. Simple steps such as planting flowers organically and locally, the human population can help stop the rapid decline of the bee population.
In America, over one million bee colonies are taken all around the country as different crops need to be pollinated at different times of the year. For example, bees that are raised in Florida are transported to California in the spring, in order to pollinate almond trees. Once the bees are transported across the country and pollinate the almond trees, they have to be transported back because once pollinated, almond trees are flowerless, which leaves the bees without food. The first study that was conducted to find out the effects of transportation on bees showed that bees that had been transported had issues with the development of their food glands. Bees use their food glands to feed other bees substances rich in protein. Researchers attributed the underdevelopment of the food glands to the stress of mass transportation. The ability for bees to fight fungal infections is also compromised by the stress of mass transportation. Putting all of those factors together, if a large colony of unhealthy bees are put together, infections spread rapidly, and since their ability to fight disease is already compromised, bees die at an alarmingly rapid rate. The reason that bees must be transported so commonly is because of industrial farming. Instead of farms having a variety of crops for bees to live off of, a significant amount of farms in the United States grow a mass amount of one or two crops, such as wheat and soy. The lack of diverse crops eliminates the possibility for bees to be able to thrive, or even to survive.
Along with the spike of industrial farming, pesticide use has become an extremely common practice for American farmers, which is an obstacle for bees. A recently new introduced pesticide that is now widespread in agricultural America is, neonicotinoids. It is getting attention because of how harmful the effects are on bees. The effects it has on bees has been compared to the effects that nicotine has on humans. When the pesticide is applied directly to the soil, the effects are strong and most commonly are fatal to any insect that comes in contact with it. Another way neonicotinoids are distributed is by coating the exterior of the crops seed in the pesticide. When it is distributed in this way, it either does not affect the bee, or it “intoxicates” the bee, so it gets confused and is not able to find its way back to the colony. As Marla Spivak states in her TED talk, “Why Bees are Disappearing”, “Recently, researchers from Penn State University have started looking at the pesticide residue in the loads of pollen that bees carry home as food, and they’ve found that every batch of pollen that a honeybee collects has at least six detectable pesticides in it, and this includes every class of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and even inert and unlabeled ingredients that are part of the pesticide formulation that can be more toxic than the active ingredient.” Based off of this research, there are potentially more risks to pesticides that have not been thoroughly researched yet.
Some of the most beneficial ways to help stop the decline of the bee population are remarkably easy to do. By planting native flowering plants in your own backyard, it can increase the ability for bees to thrive and pollinate. The best way for this to be effective is organic gardening, which is gardening without the use of chemicals, especially pesticides. As a result of organic gardening, bees have more diversity for what they need to thrive. According to the University of Rhode Island’s native plant guide, some of the most beneficial flowers to grow for bees in Rhode Island are honeysuckle, roses, raspberries, and elderberry. By doing something as simple as planting native flowers in our backyards, we could help stop the alarming decline of the bee population, and ensure the quality and quantity of the foods we consume daily.
- “Causes.” The Bees in Decline, sos-bees.org/causes/.
- Leendertz, Lia. “Increase Your Garden’s Bee Population.” Fix.com, www.fix.com/blog/bring-back-the-bees/.
- “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides.” Honey Bee Program – Bees, Beekeeping & Pollination – Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides, University of Georgia , bees.caes.uga.edu/bees-beekeeping-pollination/pollination/pollination-protecting-pollinators-from-pesticides.html.
- “RI Native Plant Guide .” Cancer Prevention Research Center, University of Rhode Island, web.uri.edu/rinativeplants/.
- Shilton, AC. “What Would Happen If All the Bees Died Tomorrow?” Tonic, Tonic, 1 Mar. 2017, tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/d7ezaq/what-would-happen-if-all-the-bees-died-tomorrow.
- Spivak, Marla. “Transcript of ‘Why Bees Are Disappearing.’” Ted, Ted, 2013, www.ted.com/talks/marla_spivak_why_bees_are_disappearing/transcript?language=en#t-529673.
- “What Is a Neonicotinoid?” Insects in the City, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/ipm/what-is-a-neonicotinoid/.
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