Back to Bees Basics: They’re Still In Big Big Trouble


Bees have been revered since the beginning of recorded history. Honey gathering is depicted in cave paintings that date back to the Paleolithic. Ancient Greeks revered bees in both myths and rituals. Native Americans used honey as a healing balm, as did Chinese healers. In modern times, much of the nutritional food we expect and enjoy is provided by our buzzing brethren’s pollination of flowers.

Far from worshipping bees, however, we have stood by as honey bees are perishing at an alarming rate.

The vanishing act—a syndrome renamed colony collapse disorder in late 2006—has been scientifically linked time and time again to the overuse of certain pesticides called neonicotinoids. And while certain naysayers continue to deny this growing body of evidence, recent research has connected the two yet again.

A new UK-based study published in the scientific journal Nature found that the increased use of neonicotinoids on crops grown in England and Wales between 2000-2010 correlated with higher bee mortality rates during that time.

As reported in the Guardian,

Comparing the pesticide usage data with honeybee colony losses, scientists...found a link between imidacloprid [an insect neurotoxin in the neonicotinoid family] usage and honeybee colony losses. Losses varied between regions and low spring temperatures were also linked to higher bee losses in Wales.”

Up until recently, nations such as the UK and the US have repeatedly denied that neonicotinoids may be detrimental to the pollinator population. However, the mounting body of evidence to the contrary has spurred more studies looking into the overall environmental impact of such widespread pesticide use.

One such national-scale study conducted from 2011 to 2014, spanning 24 states including Puerto Rico, looked at the environmental occurrence of neonicotinoids in agricultural and urban areas.

According to the report’s lead author, Michelle Hladik,

...neonicotinoids occurred throughout the year in urban streams while pulses of neonicotinoids were typical in agricultural streams during crop planting season.”

And while the levels reported did not exceed the EPA’s aquatic life criteria and were therefore deemed unlikely to be carcinogenic to humans, more studies are needed to look into the long term and possibly detrimental effects of neonicotinoids on aquatic life, humans and pollinators.

This type of environmental discovery corresponds with a recent government research showing that the U.S. honeybee population has plummeted more than 40 percent from April 2014 through April 2015, much higher than the 34.2 percent from the year prior. All of which is more than reason enough to take the decline of the honeybee seriously.

As explained in a recent Rolling Stone article,

…bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you eat and are an agricultural commodity that's been valued at $15 billion annually in the U.S. alone. They are a major workforce with a dogged work ethic—bees from one hive can collect pollen from up to 100,000 flowering plants in a single day, pollinating many of them in the process. Americans wouldn't necessarily starve without them, but our diets would be a lot more bland and a lot less nutritious.”

Sadly, despite worldwide concern, petitions and demonstrations against neonicotinoid use, the bees’ future still hangs in the balance.

Image via Flickr


Read all articles by Juniper Briggs

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