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The world’s population of bees has been declining at a very advanced rate over the last few decades. The causes of widespread hive extinctions are currently unknown, but scientists say they are caused by microbes, mites, and the mass development of their habitats by humans. However, there is now an additional apian destroyer. According to a new study, scientists believe bees are beginning to develop an animal-like version of Alzheimer’s disease, caused by high levels of aluminum in their bodies.
Scientists from Keele University and the University of Sussex have found that one of the origins of the decline in bee populations is organic aluminum toxicity, which may be the cause of the onset of cognitive dysfunction that causes the insects to become confused and unable to navigate. Aluminum is known as a neurotoxin in complex organisms. Chris Exley, a researcher from Keele University, stated the cognitive function of bees is fundamental to their survival process. If one of the pollen procurators succumbs to an aluminum-induced state of forgetfulness and dysfunction, it can lead to a domino effect which can threaten the integrity of the colony.
Exley, along with fellow researcher Dave Goulson, tested the effects of aluminum levels in pupae in affected bumblebee colonies. In human organics, an aluminum level of three parts per million (ppm) is harmful to cognitive function. The researcher found that the pupae in some colonies were much worse off, with levels that surpassed 200 ppm.
The accumulation of such a high aluminum toxicity count is said by Exley to be a direct consequence of man-made pollution. Fossil fuel emissions cause acid rain in the most affected areas, causing metallic compounds to fall back to Earth onto the petals and leaves of plants. Moreover, increased agricultural production of sulphate fertilizers and the mining of metallic ores to make aluminum compounds have contributed to the organic availability of metals non-essential for life. Exley explained that bees cannot detect the harmful chemicals where they search for pollen.
Although bees have very tiny brains – about the size of a grass seed – honeybees are known for their intelligence. These types of bees create mental maps of their home areas, which allows them to successfully navigate new areas miles away from their hives. Furthermore, previous studies have shown that honeybees can actually solve complex mathematical problems by using groups of individuals. For example, a group of bees is able to determine the shortest route to a collection of flowers discovered in a random area.
The researchers stated the effects of aluminum on bees causes them to act in a similar fashion to someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Exley, who is also the leading mind on human exposure to aluminum, said that when the metal is ingested by the insects, it causes their memory to decay, making them confused and vulnerable. Along with harming the brain, aluminum, is also deposited in nervous, bone, and muscle tissue, causing a physically debilitating affect on bees.
In the last few years, countries around the world has seen around a 30 percent decline in colonies of bees due to what is called colony collapse disorder. The worst affected areas have even seen a decline of up to 50 percent. The cause of this phenomenon is unknown, however, things like pollution, diseases, pesticides, and viruses all contribute to the problem. Though, the new mystery to uncover is the root cause of this new apian Alzhemier’s.
By Alex Lemieux
Pioneer News: Researchers Found the Relationship Between Aluminum Contamination and Brain Health in Bees
Discovery: Are Bumblebees Getting Alzheimer’s?
The Telegraph: Bees ‘may be developing form of animal Alzheimer’s’
Photo Courtesy of Sandy/Chuck Harris’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Photo Courtesy of Autan’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License