Ecology And Environment

Where have all the Honeybees gone



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"Where have all the Honeybees gone"
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Please bring back the bees

The bees are disappearing. All over the world, both wild bees and the hives of bee keepers are dying. Sometimes the hive is found empty, and sometimes it is found filled with dead bees. Nobody knows the cause for this die-off, but there are a number of possibilities. Bees are an important part of the food chain, since they pollinate the flowers of plants that are eaten by other animals, including people.

My fruit trees are mature now, ten years after I first planted them, and I just love picking my own peaches and apricots right off of the tree. However, the crop has been dwindling due to the absence of bees. Year before last, there were still a few bees and some wasps to pollinate the peach blossoms, but last year I had to go out and do the job myself with a watercolor brush because there were so few pollinating insects. This year, I haven't seen one single bee or wasp, and it is already April 10th. Unfortunately, my experience is not unique.

All over the world, honey bees are disappearing. Professional bee keepers who serve the US agricultural industry are finding fewer bees in their well-kept hives. Home gardeners are noticing fewer wild bees around their flowers.

Since a wide variety of food crops depend upon bees to pollinate them, the loss of bees all over the world could cause our food supply to collapse. "Many fruit, vegetable and seed crops, worth between $8 billion and $12 billion each year, rely on honeybees for pollination" (Science Daily, May 12, 2007).

The US Department of Agricultural and the Centers for Disease Control are stymied by this phenomenon. They have found some problems with parasites and disease, but these are nothing new. Honey bee colonies have been suffering from these blights since the early 1980s, including varroa mites (Varroa destructor) and tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi), which spread viruses among the bees that they feed on.

That decline in the bee population has suddenly become precipitous and has been named colony collapse disorder (CCD).

According to a press release from Science Daily (May 12, 2007) between half a million and one million of the 2.4 million bee colonies in the US died out over the previous winter.

In my mountain community, it might be due to several unusually long, cold winters in a row. In other parts of the world, however, we must search for other causes.

Perhaps the growth of cities and suburban communities has destroyed a large part of the bees' habitat. Paving over the land, knocking down trees and pulling up wild vegetation (weeds) can deprive the wild bees of both food supplies and places to live. However, this does not explain why many bee keepers are losing as many as two thirds of their bees. The widespread use of chemical pesticides and weed killers might be a part of the problem. Another possibility is that the genetically modified food crops are killing the bees.

We need to learn why the bees are dying, and we need to do something about it before we lose them all and thus lose a major portion of the world's food supply.

Organic gardening, which produces food without chemicals from old variety seeds which have not been genetically modified, might be one way to bring back the bees. We also need to find ways to rid the bees of a variety of diseases and parasites which threaten their lives. We need to take action now, and we need to succeed.

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