Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Bee Aware

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

Bee aware

It is thought that bees are the most important commercial pollinator and of all the bee species, honey bees are responsible for 90% of pollination.  Their pollination services have been valued by scientists at $14.6 billion in the US food crop industry alone, suggesting the global sum would be much higher.

Bees visit the flowers of plants to collect nectar which is made into honey.  In the process they become vehicles for the plant’s pollen, which is then deposited on other flowers.  If the flowers are the same species, it will be fertilised initiating the production of fruits or seeds.  This simple process is linked very closely to our food security as well as for wild animals because they ensure that crops are produced.  With all ecosystems being dependant on the survival and stability of plant life, bees play an integral role by ensuring the production of seed and multiplication of plants.  It was even commented by Albert Einstein that “if the bee disappears form the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live”, emphasising just how important they are!

Honey bee pollination is in fact so important that in the US, an industry has been set up to transport colonies by the truck load to provide their services to crops which would otherwise not be pollinated.  The $2.5 billion Californian almond cultivation is a commonly used example of a crop and recently in the news a convoy of 160 trucks were transporting bees to California.  This week, one of the trucks overturned, allowing 20million bees to escape, resulting in a loss of £72,000.  Unfortunately, the bees could not be recaptured and many died as a result of the accident.

However the bee’s problems don’t stop with small scale incidents such as these.  Many beekeepers, both commercial and amateur, are faced with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where a whole colony disappears from its hive without a clear explanation.  It is thought that there are multiple causes for this such as stress, poor nutrition, parasites and viruses.

In the US, a fatal disease linked to CCD called Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) is sweeping across the country, which has caused many colonies to disappear and die.  This has resulted in a need to replenish stocks from Australia, but there are great fears that the disease could also spread there.

The Varroa mite is also a big threat to western honey bee populations and is present in every country in the world apart from Australia.  The 2mm long parasite sucks the bee’s blood, simultaneously passing on many diseases which shorten the bee’s lifespan.  A synthetic poison has been produced to kill the mite which has worked well in the past, but the mites have now developed a resistance to the chemical making it ineffective.  The mites often cause disorientation in the bees, resulting in them travelling to another colony, which causes the pest to spread.  Unfortunately it only takes about 2000 mites to wipe out a whole bee colony.

However, there is hope, with research being conducted on the Killer bee, which is resistant to the mite.  It is hoped that it’s tolerance of the mite can be identified, allowing new techniques to be created to ensure the honey bee’s survival.

Chemical pesticides and habitat loss are also big threats to bee species.  With the natural wild flower food resources being destroyed to make way for agriculture, the bees have to find alternate feeding areas.  However, this is no easy task, especially due to the high use of pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals which are killing both bees and their food sources.  This suggests that bees have more stable populations in cities.  This is due to the reduced use of agricultural chemicals in urban areas and the diverse range of both native and tropical plants in people’s gardens.  Many bee hives are popping up in allotments, roof tops and gardens, which are great for bee populations and also mean that many people have access to their very own honey.

It can be hoped that the research into CCD is successful and that a way to remove Varroa mites can be found relatively soon.  It has been commented that the reason bees have not already become extinct is because of their importance to humans, so let’s hope this is a conservation success story.
By Lizy Tinsley


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