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article imageWhy everyone should worry about decline of honeybees

By Kathleen Blanchard     Sep 10, 2013 in Health
Researchers have been concerned about why honeybees are dying. To date no one knows why there are fewer colonies. Scientists say unless we find out what’s happening we might all have fewer fruits and vegetables that we know are so important for health.
Richard Fell, Ph.D said at the American Chemical Society (ACS) 246th National Meeting & Exposition that everyone should be worried about honeybees, but not because they sting us.
Despite best efforts and years of researcher, there has been no cause discovered and no remedy for dying honeybee populations.
Fell said in a press release, "Without bees to spread pollen from the male parts of plants to the female parts, fruit may not form. That would severely impact consumers, affecting the price of some of the healthiest and most desirable foods."
Farmers put honeybee hives in their fields for ‘managed pollination’ when crops are ready.
There are more than 100 different fruits and vegetables that rely on the process. The estimated value of "managed pollination" is $15 billion annually.
Disappearing honeybees means higher prices for consumers, Fell said, as well as fewer fruits and vegetables.
There are many theories about what is happening to bee colonies.
Farmers too will feel the impact of disappearing bees, especially those with crops requiring high pollination, such as almonds.
Bee populations aren’t just declining in the U.S. Fells said some other countries are experiencing the problem from a condition sometimes referred to as “colony collapse disorder (CCD).”
One-third of honeybees die each year from something that has yet to be discovered.
Fell who is an emeritus professor of entomology at Virginia Tech, and an authority on colony decline in bees explains: "There is a good bit of misinformation in the popular press about CCD and colony decline, especially with regard to pesticides.”
He emphasizes there could be a variety of factors involved in CCD and colony decline that might even differ depending on region and time of year.
Though there is a push from beekeepers to ban the sale of neonicotinoids – a type of insecticide – Fell said there is no scientific evidence that the chemicals are causing problems with bee colonies, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also concluded.
James E Cresswell, Biosciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom, has also been investigating neonicotinoids. According to Cresswell’s research finding, honeybees are good at detoxifying.
But he urges caution, nevertheless, saying:…”bee-neonicotinoid interactions are complex and likely varied in outcome and that care must therefore be taken to accommodate this into the evolving frameworks for pesticide regulation and environmental protection.”
What would happen if the honeybees can’t pollinate?
It’s possible that bumble bees and the alfalfa leafcutter bee could be used for pollination, but Fell says they aren’t as easy to work with. Another potential problem is that those bees are also declining in numbers.
Recently-published research suggests other bees would not "naturally" pick up the job of pollination.
“The major advantages of using honeybees are ease of movement, both in and out of orchards or fields, as well as the ability to manage colonies for higher populations. Honeybee colonies can be moved from one crop to another in a single season, something that cannot be done easily with bumble bees or solitary bee species such as the alfalfa leafcutter bee," explained Fell.
Understanding why honeybee colonies are disappearing would help manage other bee species that are dwindling.
If our honeybees disappear, so will our healthiest food supply of fruits, vegetables and nuts — and even our fruity ice creams. It’s not just beekeepers and farmers that need to be concerned. We all need to worry about the fate of bees.
More about Honeybees, Bee decline, honeybees and food, ACS, ACS study
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