Bees are absolutely vital to the economy, as well as to the survival of crops. Upon these minute creatures, whole ecosystems depend for the transfer of pollen between plants. Evidence points to a steep decline in the number of honey bee colonies in the United States between 1947 to present. The number of managed beehives has dropped from 6 million to only 2.5 million today, according to the White House. The honey bee, it seems, may be facing the beginning stages of extinction. Bees, along with a diverse species of warm and cold-blooded animals, are dying in alarming numbers.
This development is not particularly new. For the past decade, reports have surfaced frequently that populations of monarch butterflies, frogs and insects, bats and birds are all disappearing. What sets this news apart is the call to action from the White House Jun 20. President Obama stated that the Environmental Protection Agency and United States Department of Agriculture will initiate action to determine what is causing so many pollinators to vanish. He is also charging these organizations to identify ways to boost conservation efforts.
The Obama administration will be implementing plans for what is being called The Pollinator Health Task Force. The purpose of this task force will be to study, boost awareness about, and learn how to protect the dwindling bee population worldwide. Bees are routinely screened and studied to improve scientist’s understanding of what is happening to the world’s bee populations, as well as to track the effect of dwindling bee numbers on agriculture, forestry and the food chain.
Many know that bees are vital to the survival of crops, but fewer realize that failure to pollinate produce can be as devastating to the economy as to environmental agriculture. Failing to spread pollen at rates sustained, even comparably, to the past two decades, is eradicating a substantial amount of the world’s crop yield. Roughly 100 crops species make up 90 percent of the world’s food supply. 70 percent of those crops are pollinated by bees, according to a report by the United Nations. Additionally, the collapse of bee colonies (a term which researchers have dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD) is forcing commercial beekeepers out of business entirely.
Whole colonies of bees appear to be either dying or disappearing. It is hard to say precisely what the cause is on a case by case basis, primarily because bees are vanishing entirely, evacuating hives without any carcasses left for experts to examine. Among factors cited for the demise of nature’s pollinators in the statement released from the White House are pesticides, mite infestations, and a lack of genetic diversity. Studies in China have suggested that a systemic bee virus, capable of being passed as bees move from flower to flower, may also be to blame for the disintegration of bee populations.
Bees are critical stewards of the environment and pollination, as well as nature’s most efficient means of helping plants reproduce. Equally important, these insects are fascinating, efficient and complicated specimens; the behavior of bees tells science that these are social creatures with a sense of order and an instinct for singularity.
The bees are close relatives of both wasps and ants. They have compound eyes which are made up of thousands of small lenses, not unlike a fly, on either side of the head. Bees also have three simple eyes on the top of the head, in addition to two sets of wings and a pouch for nectar independent of the stomach. Extensive study of bees tells scientists that bees have odorant receptors that enable these insects to identify other bees, communicate, and discover food sources. A bee can smell pollen and identify the type of plant that it comes from based on its smell.
Honey bees are the only insect on the planet that does or is capable of producing food that is edible to human beings. Incredibly, honey is the singular food that contains each of the vital components and substances needed to support life. Present in honey are water, vitamins, enzymes and minerals, as well as antioxidants. In fact, honey is the only food that exists which provides pinocembrin, an antioxidant known to scientists to improve brain function. Bees have existed for millions of years, and are absolutely vital to economic and environmental health on a global scale.
A fact sheet from the White House detailed the measurable economic impact that the decline of pollinators has posed to the American economy over time. Incredibly, research gathered by the administration states that pollinators contribute nearly $24 billion to the United States economy. Honey bees, this information attests, account for more than $15 billion by perpetuating the growth of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. It was also estimated that the wild bee population accounts for $9 billion worth of this industry.
This fact sheet states that bees and other pollinating populations are integral to food security in the United States. These species enable no less than 90 commercially grown crops in North America, the report said. In the global economy, 87 of 115 food crop’s survival isdependent on the vital pollination that bees provide to the environment. The fiscal impact of not addressing this issue, experts predict, will be as devastating as the loss of one or more of the species that are dwindling today.
By Mariah Beckman