Alex Heldrich, Reporter
Flowers are blooming, pollen is clouding eyes, the clouds and sun are battling for dominance and supermarkets are filled with fresh fruits. Spring is here. But it could be different if bees were taken out of the equation. There would be no blooming flowers for people to admire, no pollen, which many may appreciate, but there would also be little produce left on the shelves of stores.
This reality may be the future. Within the past decade, populations of Western honey bees have been disappearing at an alarming rate. This phenomenon is known as Colony Collapse Disorder. The United States Department of Agriculture defines CCD as “a syndrome where a dead colony with no adult bees or dead bee bodies, but live with a live queen and usually honey and immature bees are still present.” CCD doesn’t just affect the beekeepers; it has large scale consequences.
“If you look back in evolutionary history, when bees evolved it’s right when we get flowering plants,” Max Handler, assistant professor of environmental science and geography, said. “So the two have, as far as we can tell, always gone together, hand in hand. There essentially aren’t bees without flowering plants and there’s not flowering plants without bees.”
This poses as a major threat for agriculturalists, food distributors, florists and the general population.
“If you are a farmer or an economist, the way you look at it is: the Western honey bee is used to pollinating crops, so people bring their honey bees and release them to the crops for a day or two,” Handler said. “The value of crops that are pollinated by western honey bees is roughly $200 billion. So if you take away the honey bees, some of those plants will still be pollinated, but it will be a lot less.”
As pollination is a necessity for life, as is human reproduction, there would need to be a man-made alternative to bees. Although most varieties of bees act as pollinators, Western honey bees are typically the variety kept for large scale industrial pollination.
“One way to think about the economic price is if bees aren’t pollinating the crops so we had to invent a new way to do it, how much would it cost?” Handler said. “It’s going to be a lot more than $200 billion to fix the problem.”
The logical solution to fixing CCD would be to get rid of the factor that’s responsible; however, it’s not as simple of a fix as it may seem.
“Domestic bees are raised for pollination for industrial purposes and these industrial farms pay agriculturalists a lot of money to come bring their bees to perform pollination.,” Handler said. “So what you have is people driving around a tremendous amount of bees all around the United States and Canada. In one week they might be in Georgia and then next week in Central California and the next week in Saskatchewan, Canada and so their environment is all over, which has made it really difficult to tell what is causing bee populations to collapse.”
Scientists who are researching the reason behind the disappearance of honey bees highly suspect that a class of relevantly new pesticides is one of the factors involved. These specific pesticides contain nicotine.
“Although people have been spraying nicotine on their crops for a long time, they’ve kind of reworked nicotine into a bunch of pesticides within the last decade into a substance called neonicotinoids,” Handler said. “We know this because when you feed the neonicotinoids to the bees, the symptoms are the same as what we’re seeing in the populations that are collapsing.”
However, this isn’t the only factor related to CCD. There are multiple pesticides and other influences to blame as well such as mites and loss natural land containing wildflowers.
“It’s a difficult problem,” Handler said. “The first problem is that there is definitely more than one cause, so you can’t just solve one of them. We need lots of different people taking action in order to really make a change. We would need to have one agency get together and make firm decisions on what to do and have people follow.”
Simple actions, such as not destroying patches of wild clover while mowing the lawn and planting a “bee garden,” can make a difference. A “bee garden” is a garden with flowering plants that bees love as well as other plants. Some of the flowering plants that bees are especially attracted to are lavender, buttercups, sage, geraniums, poppies, aster and zinnias. Simply planting these flowers in a garden will attract hungry bees and provide them with a healthy dose of nectar, as long as hazardous pesticides aren’t used.
“Here at Pierce College we could get rid of any pesticide use,” Handler said. “We have beautiful lawns, but if you just let them go, there would be lots of clover which would be really great for the bees, but maybe not so great for maintaining the campus. I also think it would be great if we had a garden at Pierce and then we could have lots of bees.”
While the issue may seem too big for one person to solve, small actions add up. People must rally to plant flowers and keep the buzz going about the horrors of a world without bees.
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