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When bees threaten a family picnic or romantic walk in the park, it may be tempting to wish they would just disappear. However, while most of us rationally recognize the need for their pollination, their numbers are starting to dwindle.

This leads many people to ask questions: why are the bees dying? How can we stop this?

Bee populations have been declining rapidly in recent years due to the rise of colony collapse disorder in honey bees. This is a phenomenon that causes entire hives to become abandoned, leaving adult bees nowhere to be found, and honey left untouched in the hive. The cause of these losses is uncertain and often debated. One study conducted in 2013 by the United Kingdom’s Food and Environment Research Agency claimed that a class of pesticide, neonicotinoids, is a large factor influencing bee deaths. However, in 2015, the study was overturned. Presently, government ministers in the UK speculate that, although there is an inverse relationship between bee population levels and use of neonicotinoids, there is no evidence that the pesticide is a definitive cause of bee death. Rather, most scientists agree that the trend is caused by a combination of pesticides, climate change, and parasitical disease.

Image Source: Kerstin Klaassen

Viruses are another major threat to the bee population. Viruses from managed honeybees, such as black queen cell virus and acute bee paralysis virus, are now spreading to the wild bumblebee population. Until now, the bumblebee population has only been affected by one virus, the deformed wing virus, but the study of these potential diseases has alarmed scientists as they are another factor leading to the demise of this valuable creature.

With more attention to the potential loss of bees, there has been a scramble in the health community to retain and revive a larger population. A study has shown that although nicotine and caffeine may harm the human body, natural occurrences of these substances in cash crops may be beneficial for the pollinators, as the chemicals have been proven to help bees fight off dangerous parasites.

So how would the demise of the bee population affect us as humans?

Bees are important pollinators of crops and wildflowers and the rare source of honey, a delicious staple. A recent discovery also shows the relationship between bees and human nutrition. Pollinator species help cultivate crops that make up a large part of our population’s diets. Many people in underdeveloped areas are dependent on the particular crops that bees sustain, and without these nutrients, as many as 56% of the human population would be classified as malnourished.

Even if the thought of a bee buzzing around your picnic blanket bothers you, you may want to think twice before you grab the swatter.

Feature Image Source: bee by Pimthida

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