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Factors and Recommendations of the Global Decline of Honeybee Populations

3344 words (13 pages) Essay in Environmental Studies

18/05/20 Environmental Studies Reference this

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Running Head: Honeybee Decline

Executive Summary

The following is research regarding the causes and trends of the honeybee decline as well as recommendations to mitigate this issue. The goal of the report is the educate and offer solutions to be adopted by the American Beekeeper Federation in order for beekeepers to develop sustainable practices to aid in the retention of the honeybee population.

The purpose of the study is to investigate the underlying reasons for the honey bee population decline as well as how this will affect our planet long-term. Honey bees are a main source of pollination and without their existence, many other species and forms of life will not survive either.

Honey bees are vital to agriculture in the USA and abroad; around 80% of food crop in the United States are pollinated by honey bees. In addition to food crops, honey bees play a significant role in the pollination of non-food products such as cotton and flax. The population of bees are steadily declining worldwide to the mass use of pesticides and parasites that target bee colonies. The extinction of bees would affect many aspects of life including plants, animals, availability of fuel and inevitably, human life. By studying how bees support our ecosystems as well as the factors threatening their existence, we can effectively make recommendations to alleviate the danger to bee populations.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY……………………………………………………………………….3

INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 2

CURRENT TRENDS……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2

CAUSES……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 4

RECOMMENDATIONS…………………………………………………………………………………………………. 8

CONCLUSION………………………………………………………………………………………………………………10

REFERENCES…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 12

 

LIST OF FIGURES

Fig. 1………………………………………………………………………………………………i

Fig. 2 ………………………………………………………………………………………………3

Fig. 3…………………………………………………………………………………………….5

Fig. 4………………………………………………………………………………………………9

Fig. 5……………………………………………………………………………………………..10

Introduction

Pollinators are a vital ingredient to global diversity, providing important ecosystem services to wild plants and crops. Honeybees are essential in maintaining agricultural productivity and communities of wild plants. Most of the food eaten in many parts of the world relies on pollinators, especially bees, for a good harvest. Pollination of crops mainly depends on wild pollinators and domesticated populations such as honey bees. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there was a pattern of steady decline of bee populations from nearly 6 million in the 1940s to 2.3 million in 2008 (Johnson, 2010). From 2008, the downward spiral has moved from bad to worse. Beekeepers continue to report significant losses of honey bee colonies in the U.S. Colony decline might be affected by several projected and recent environmental changes such as climate change and habitat loss. In addition, the decline in the abundance and diversity of flowers as well as exposure to agrochemicals and parasites spread by humans factor into the dwindling bee populations. The failures of honey bees in different regions of the globe poses an ecological risk because they lead to the disappearance of plants that rely on pollination and the ecosystem provided by these plants.

Current trends and Status of Pollinators

Globally, honeybees (Apis mellifera), are the pollinators that help in agricultural production. Research shows that compared to other species of bees, the honeybee has the capability of increasing 96% crop yield (Potts, 2010). The death of colony bees continues to rise. According to a survey by Bee Informed Partnership, in winter 2018, U.S. beekeepers lost more than 40% of honeybee colonies (“Honey Bee Colony Losses 2018-2019: Preliminary Results”, 2019). This was the largest loss reported since the partnership was started 13 years ago. The responses of the survey were from 4,696 beekeepers with more than 319,787 hives (“Honey Bee Colony Losses 2018-2019: Preliminary Results”, 2019).

Substantial concern on the availability of honeybees for future pollination has been raised. In 2007, a large beekeeper in several states in the U.S. reported heavy losses that were a result of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The reports varied widely with most injuries ranging from 30% to 90% of their colonies (“Vanishing of the Bees”, 2009). Research also showed that the surviving bees were weakened and would be no longer viable for honey production or pollination. The loss of bees was mostly felt during winter seasons. Unlike in the past decades, today, reports show that a significant loss of honeybees is as a result of bees failing to return to their hives.

The decline in the honeybee population is most likely to affect the costs and production of vitamin-rich crops such as vegetables and fruits, leading to an increase in health problems and unbalanced diets. Increasing and maintaining crop yields is important for a better income of farmers, food security, and good health (Potts, 2010). The economic value of pollination in different regions of the world is as high as $1,500 dollars per hectare (Potts, 2010). This is money that farmers would be losing in income if honeybees continue to decline and can no longer perform their jobs as pollinators.

In the United States, pollination services are provided by migratory beekeepers who move from one state to the other to provide pollination services to farmers. During the bloom cycle of crops, the commercial beekeepers supply a large number of honey bees. For example, California almond farmers rent colonies of honey bees to pollinate the crops during spring. 20% of the colonies are in California, while 10% is in Florida. The Dakotas account for 7%, while Montana and Texas account for 5% each (Johnson, 2010). Most of these states also produce honeybees for sale.

Causes of the Honeybee Decline

The decline of the honeybee is a result of many factors, including changes in land use, parasites, trans-global pathogens, loss of habitat, poor beekeeping practices, and pesticides. However, these factors act in interaction, and none act in isolation. The interaction occurs when one driver increases the severity of the other, and this explains the decline in the number of honeybees in the U.S.

Changes in Land Use and Climate

The existence of honey bees is likely to decline as the effects of climate change continue to increase. Climate change is a significant cause of habitat loss, and honey bees fail to migrate to areas that are cool to establish new hives (Hung, 2018). Habitat loss is a significant cause of disturbance for bee communities. Changing weather conditions and temperatures because of climate change have limited the areas where bees can survive. According to Professor Jeremy Kerr of the University of Ottawa, bees are no longer establishing new populations or colonizing new areas (Kerr, 2015). In recent years, bees no longer migrate towards the North pole. In the South, bees have also died. Not all species of bees can adjust to changing weather climates. Despite their ability to move from one place to the other, bees have difficulties setting up new homes. Studies show that bees’ distance from their habitat has a negative effect on the health of their colonies and subsequently their ability to pollinate. There is also a negative effect of agriculture or urbanization on selected species of bees (Hung, 2018).

         In addition, a rise in temperatures has led to the blooming of flowers in early spring which has led to a mismatch in the seasonal timing of pollen production by flowers and when bees are ready to feed on pollen. A small mismatch, of even three to seven days would hurt the health of the bees, making them less resistant to parasites and less likely to reproduce (Potts, 2010). There is also a high correlation between changes in temperatures and the spread of diseases (Hung, 2018).

         Changes in land use such as intensive farming and insensitive development in urban areas have also led to a significant fragmentation and loss of pollinator-friendly habitats. As a result, bees lose their food sources needed for their survival. Bees must have safer places for nesting and enough flowers to forage among the soil and vegetation (Gorey, 2018). However, changes in land use have led to a 97% loss of wildflowers, leaving the bees with no natural habitat. Most bees have to rely on protected wildlife sites which mostly do not favor the honey bees. Urban development damages important habitats for most insects such as bees.

Pesticides and Chemicals

Another major cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the use of chemicals, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, both of which are primarily used in crop farming. Farmers mainly depend on chemicals that pose a threat to the existence of bees (Goulson, 2015). Some fungicides and pesticides are known to have adverse effects on honeybee colonies. Scientists indicate that pesticides have lethal effects on bees which mainly include impairing their behavior and development. For example, neonicotinoids are a type of insecticide containing ingredients of imidacloprid and other chemicals such as thiamethoxam and clothianidin (Goulson, 2015). Research shows that honey bees are mostly affected by these chemicals which are known to go up to the flower of a plant, and they leave residues in the pollen and nectar. Tested samples of pollen indicate findings of various substances, including herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides (Buglife, 2019). Long-term exposure to these chemicals would lead to chronic problems in the bee family. The chemicals impair the foraging and navigation of honeybees .

Beekeepers from the U.S. and other parts of the world report that imidacloprid has adverse effects on the behaviors of insects, including foraging, navigation, recruitment, coordination, flight, and olfactory memory (Buglife, 2019). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies that most of the chemicals used in farming are highly toxic to the bee family (National Research Council, 2007). High levels of fungi have been found in the guts of the dead bees. Researchers indicate that these high levels of infection compromise the immune system of the honeybees (National Research Council, 2007). In some parts of Europe, the use of some pesticides has been discontinued because of their effects on pollinators. However, in Europe, there has been an observed loss of bees, even in areas where these chemicals are not used (Buglife, 2019). Despite conflicting information on the use of pesticides, several environmental groups are taking up to the courts to show that there is a possibility that chemical load leads to colony decline. For example, in 2009, a court in New York invalidated the approval of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) on the use of pesticide spirotetramat and asked the agency to reevaluate the chemical. The pesticide is known to be harmful to the bees. Also, in 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against EPA to obtain information that the government was withholding on the adverse effects of pesticides on bees.

Parasites and Mites

         Another driver for the honeybee decline is the presence of fungal gut parasites, voracious mites, and a wide range of debilitating viruses which lead to collapsing colonies when bees suffer ill effects of these drivers. Scientists have revealed a deadly link between blood-sucking parasites and the collapse of honeybee colonies. The Varroa mites have permanently and massively increased the global prevalence of fatal bee viruses (Carrington, 2012). The Varroa virus is one of the most contagious and widely spread incest viruses in the world.

The existence of the killer virus is still an ongoing threat to colonies even after the mites have been removed from the hives. The varroa destructor has been the reason for the halving of the number of honey bees in different parts of the world. The Varroa mites attack honey bees by spreading diseases, feeding on hemolymph, and reducing their lifespan.

Also, the strains of the deformed wing virus (DWV) remain dominant. This leads to a fast collapse of the colonies, meaning that beekeepers must work diligently to make sure that their hives are free of the mites that cause the Varroa virus. The Varroa mites magnify the effects of DWV mainly because it transmits the virus directly into the bloodstream of the bees as the parasite feeds (McMahon, 2016). This weakens the bee’s immune system as the virus can be transmitted via sexual contact or food. Second, the virus in the mite can massively multiply. Lastly, the DWV strain rapidly dominates, thus becoming very harmful for the bees. It is therefore evident that virus infections from mite infestations are a significant cause of honeybee decline. However, research shows that there are low levels of varroa in migratory beehives compared to stationery beehives. Also, a high manifestation during winter is recorded at the beginning of the winter season. The winter season is a critical time for bee colonies as it’s when they produce long-life winter bees that survive only on stored honey and pollen.

         Nosema parasite has a more nuanced relationship with viruses mostly found in honey bees. Nosema infection has a high correlation to the prevalence of Lake Sinai Virus 2, which increases the risk of Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. Research also shows that there is an inverse relationship between the deformed wing virus and Nosema (Carrington, 2012). Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus is mainly known for causing motor loss, and it kills bees in less than seven days. The virus was first reported in the U.S. in 2010, and since then its prevalence keeps doubling every year (Carrington, 2012).

Recommendations

Although the status of honeybees seems a bit bleak, much can be done to maintain their population and prevent future shortages. The sustainability of this principal managed pollinators could be stressed through the adoption and the development of pathogen and parasites resistant stock of bees. Several events could help attain this goal.

Breeding resistant honey bees

A lasting solution to the problems of honeybee pathogens and parasitic mites is the introduction of resistant stock of bees. Several traits linked to Varroa mite resistance can be inherited. A varroa-resistant type of honeybee was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is still available commercially as SMART stock (Johnson, 2010).

Also, the government should mainly focus on identifying pollinators with a long history of exposure to the virus as a source of resistant stock. The government should consider importing Russian bees that are known to be immune to the Varroa virus. Honeybees that exhibit this characteristic should be available commercially as well. Locally adaptable stocks should be developed so that beekeepers can replenish their colonies with the bees.

In most cases, beekeepers use stocks that do well in the South during warm climates. These stocks might not do well in the North, most especially during winters. Therefore, the government should introduce stocks of bees that are resistant to certain climate changes as well.

Limiting the Use of Pesticides

When possible, blooms should not be sprayed directly with pesticides, and if it is inevitable, then they should be sprayed in the evening hours. In most cases, honeybees forage during the daytime when temperatures are above 55-60°F (Hung, 2018). In the evening, bees return to their hives. Spraying in the evening reduces the mortality of honeybees.

It is also crucial for farmers to use less toxic pesticides to reduce the mortality of honey bees. The government should introduce a policy where only pesticides with a faster residue time should be used (National Research Council, 2007). When these pesticides are sprayed, they take a shorter time to degrade. Farmers should choose an appropriate formulation to avoid losing bees. Pesticides have different formulas, including soluble powders, solutions, wettable powders, dust, granular, and emulsifiable concentrates (Goulson, 2015). The best formulations for use are granular, emulsifiable concentrates, and solutions. This is because wettable powders and dust leave a powdery residue that is harmful to insects. Dust will also adhere to the hair on the honeybee, and this can affect their immune system. The dust is also taken back to the hives and is stored together with pollen which can lead to the collapse of an entire colony. To help the bees recover from poisoning, they should be given pollen, sugar syrup, and water.

Changing Farming Methods

Planting fruits, flowers, and vegetables that bees can use as a food source is a way to mitigate the issue of bee population decline. In addition to “weeds” like dandelion and clover, bees are attracted to a plethora of plants like mint and poppy. By planting food sources that bees are attracted to, they can have more support during their pollination routes which will lead to not only a healthier bee population but a better pollination.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, honeybees are essential as they ensure successful crop yields and reproduction of wildflowers. Research shows that the honey bees which are mostly used for pollination services are struggling for survival. The decline of honeybee colonies in the United States continues to double every year. The losses have raised concerns that food supply chains and agriculture will suffer massive disruptions as pollination services become less available and more costly. The collapse of these pollinators has substantial economic impacts on the country. The major causes of these losses are mostly because of devastating climate change, the use of pesticides, and changes in land use. To increase the number of pollinators in the country, the government should breed honey resistant honey bees, control mating, introduce genetic solutions on problems of mites and pathogens, control the use of pesticides, and try to increase the number of colonies.

References

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