Why we should care about disappearing bees

– a student essay by Maridel Santos

Organisms have developed close relationships with each other in order to evolve and survive into following generations. The human species are not excluded in this equation. In fact, it can be observed that we have taken the most advantage in our relationships with other organisms. But what happens when there is a major population collapse within a species that we most rely on for our nutritional needs?

Presently, there is such an event occurring within the agricultural industry in the United States. Throughout the country, bee colonies have lost all their worker bees. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has resulted in a loss of 50-90% of colonies in beekeeping operations across the U.S. and as of April 2007 has become a global phenomenon spreading throughout European countries. In the United States, the deaths of European honeybees have been linked to immunosupression caused by Varroa mite infestation of the hives. This immunosupression has opened doors for viruses and bacteria to invade the colonies and cause the population collapse of the bees.

Honey bee worker carrying a parasitic Varroa mite.

(Credit: Image courtesy of ARS/USDA Scott Bauer)

Other factors that may contribute to CCD includes unexpected negative effects of pesticides on bees, an emergent parasite or pathogen that may be attacking honey bees, the gut microbe called Nosema in particular in conjunction with the mites that feed on bee blood and transmit bee viruses who have become resistant to compounds used to control them.

A CCD Steering Committee found in September 2007 the only pathogen seen in almost all samples from honey bee colonies with CCD but not in non-CCD colonies. The Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) is a dicistrovirus that can be transmitted by the Varroa mite. This particular virus was found in 96.1% of the CCD-bee samples. The findings do not directly implicate IAPV as the primary cause of CCD but brings about a strong correlation of the appearance of IAPV and CCD together.

Why is this population collapse relevant to human societies and especially in the Central Valley? Bees play an integral role in the world food supply and are essential for the pollination of over 90 fruit and vegetable crops worldwide. In the U.S. alone, the economic value for these crop products is placed at more than $14.6 billion. Economically, the loss of such a great percentage of bee population can be devastating to the agricultural business. As agriculture based economy, the Central Valley faces a vast increase financial expenditure in importing hives from other non-infected colonies from other countries. These increase expenses is not monetary alone. Ecologically speaking, it will also increase carbon footprints due to a rise in transportation costs and fossil fuel usage. In addition to agricultural crops, honey bees also pollinate many native plant species. This disorder will not only affect our society economically, it will also have a significant ecological effect on different species of plants and animals that depend on bee pollination to procure their nutritional needs, including us.

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One thought on “Why we should care about disappearing bees

  1. Bobby

    This post underscores the real and immediate need for biodiversity. Native bees are important pollinators. They are a species-rich group and provide important services to humans, but their services are not well known. Because humans relied on one species, the honey bee, that leaves humans vulerable to population collapses that are underway. A community of different species might still perform the needed pollination services, because at least a few bee species would be resistant to the mites and secondary viral and fungal attacks. Native bee species are threatened by habitat loss and are in fact poorly understood (see for example http://www.vernalpools.org). Humans could avoid agricultural collapse if we supported biodiversity by retaining existing habitat fragments and conducting research on other pollinators to facilitate their survival.

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