For years now, environmentalists, entomologists and other scientists have been watching the decline of the honeybee and warning that if left unchecked, many honeybee species could be in danger of becoming extinct, which would be a disaster for many crops.
Over 30% of the world's food crops and 90% of wild plants are pollinated and thus kept alive by bees. The reduction in the numbers of bees is already having an impact on crops and plants and experts advise that it will only get worse if something isn't done.
In the United States, scientists from the US Dept of Agriculture are looking into the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. While the cause is unknown, a colony that has fallen victim to this has no live adult bees, except for the queen and some immature drone bees that do not reproduce. Sometimes honey is present, but the colony is not sustainable. Pesticides, invasive fungi, viruses and destruction of bee habitats are all possible reasons for CCD, or it could be a combination of these factors and others that have lead to the devastation of so many bee colonies. In a press release, Jeff Pettis, research leader of the Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, said,
"We know more now than we did a few years ago, but CCD has really been a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and the best I can say is that a lot of pieces have been turned over. The problem is that they have almost all been blue-sky pieces-frame but no center picture." Pettis had previously been the lead researcher on the USDA's Agricultural Research Service investigation into CCD.
The problem exists in Europe as well. The EU has banned three specific pesticides that contain neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) but this ban is due to expire at the end of 2015. European farmers reported a dramatic increase in pests and had to use older pesticides that had harmful human side effects and were not as efficient. France has extended the ban on these pesticides because farmers believe that the neonicotinoids not only kill bees directly, but also weaken their immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to viruses and infections from other countries.
Most recently, there was a research study done in the UK that mapped the DNA of bees by capturing a variety of the insects in different locations, extracting their DNA and combining it in a kind of "bee soup." This combination was then entered into a DNA sequencing program and compared with existing examples of bee mitochondria so researchers could see where bees were declining and which specific species were at risk. It's much faster than the traditional methods of having to collect bees and examine them under a microscope. It's also more accurate.
As more countries attempt to figure out why bee populations are declining, more efficient monitoring methods are going to be needed. For now though, it seems that bringing back the bees is a priority for many governments and that often means more regulation, more study and more controversy over what exactly the cause is and how the decline of the bee species can be halted.
Check out the video below for more information on how France is approaching the issue
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