Most people know that insect pollinators increase agricultural crop yields, but estimates by the researchers Morse and Calderone have shown the value of honeybee pollination to crop production is $14.6 billion in the US alone. However, not only do they increase the quantity, but did you know that honey bees improve the quality of many crops? For example they increase the oil content in oilseed crops and also the fruit juice and sugar content of citrus fruits.
That is why more needs to be done to save declining populations of bees. In the UK alone, since 2007, bee populations have decreased by a third. The reason for such drastic reduction in populations is due to Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD occurs when there is a loss of the adult population, which in turn causes a breakdown in division of labour as immature worker bees try and replace the workforce but are unable to cope.
What could be the reasons behind CDD?
Some believe the main cause of CCD is insecticides, more specifically neonicotinoids. It is speculated that they impair neurological function in bees, affecting their ability to navigate and learn causing adult bees to die prematurely and leaving younger immature worker bees to forage.
The Varroa mite is also considered to be another major factor contributing to CCD. These parasites suck the haemolymph out of bees leaving perforations which allow viruses and bacteria to enter. One of which is the Deformed Wing virus. The DFW virus can also be transmitted from the queen to offspring. The virus causes shortened, rounded abdomens, and paralysis of the legs and wings and has also been found to impair neurological function especially memory retention. This causes an insufficient workforce to sustain the bee colony.
A third possible cause is stress, which may be from poor nutrition caused by lack of plants that have pollen or nectar. Raised stress levels also dampen the immune system making bees more liable to diseases.
One solution is to use African bees, which despite being much more aggressive than the average European bee, are resistant to the Varroa mite. This reduces the need for insecticides which can damage the environment. They are also less effected by tropical climates, which may become important as temperatures rise.
Another way to counteract the effect of declining bee populations on crop yields, is to use vibrators such as the ‘vegibee’ to mimic bees as some major crops require buzz pollination at specific frequencies to release a plants pollen.
However, I think the best solution is the preserve the bees we have. You can help save the bees by.
- Buying raw local honey that hasn’t been treated with chemicals, supporting sustainable practices.
- Not treating lawns with weed killer (wildflowers are a major food source for bees!)
- Planting flowers to provide forage
- Placing a small basin of fresh water in the garden to prevent bees becoming dehydrated.
Student at The Priory Academy LSST
‘My name is Charlotte and I am currently studying physics, chemistry, maths and biology AS levels. I like reading (especially about brains!), looking after the environment and solving maths problems.’