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Could Bees Rebound from Extinction… Again?

Could Bees Rebound from Extinction… Again?

Bees are dying in frightening numbers, and we don’t know why. If this trend continues unchecked, the world’s agricultural crops and the people who depend on them are in real trouble. Thankfully, researchers have discovered a new clue that might help us avoid this fate.

Bees, it seems, faced extinction once before but staged an impressive comeback. Researchers believe that 65 million years ago, bees essentially disappeared at about the same time the dinosaurs did. Somehow, though, bees managed to survive on Earth when the mighty dinosaurs could not.

This news is the finding of a new study published in the journal PLOS One. The researchers hope that their effort to understand how bees managed to rebound so successfully might help us determine how to keep them from going extinct a second time.

“Understanding extinctions and the effects of declines in the past can help us understand the pollinator decline and the global crisis in pollinators today,” the study’s lead author, Sandra Rehan, told ScienceBlog.com.

Rehan, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of New Hampshire, and her team studied the DNA of four groups containing 230 species of carpenter bees from every continent except Antarctica. They were hoping to understand how bee populations from Africa, Asia and Australia were related on an evolutionary level. What they learned was something entirely different.

Studies done by others have indicated that flowering plants experienced widespread extinction at the same time the dinosaurs disappeared. Until now, scientists assumed this had to mean that bees died off along with them.

“[U]nlike dinosaurs that have left plentiful fossils, bees don’t fossilize well, so their presence in the fossil record is very patchy,” Mike Schwartz, collaborator for the study, told ABC Science. “There are large numbers of bees found in 45 million year old amber, but not much before that.”

Comparing the evidence they gathered on bees from different major continents convinced the research team that something similar happened to bees, regardless of their location.

“The data told us something major was happening in four different groups of bees at the same time,” Rehan said. “And it happened to be the same time as the dinosaurs went extinct.”

Interestingly, according to Schwartz, the demise of dinosaurs, flowering plants and bees occurred during a period of great climate change.  He suspects that perhaps this information may offer insight into how climate change may factor into the current bee die-off.

When all is said and done, the good news is that it appears bees went mostly or completely extinct and now, somehow, they’re back. Bees are resilient little fellows.

What’s the bad news? Rehan’s team believes bees were extinct for about 10 million years before they somehow reversed course and returned. If we lose them now, we can’t wait that long for them.

“Bees have gone through hard times, and negative effects have occurred. We can maybe learn from the past, and learn how pollinators and plants respond to natural disturbances,” Rehan suggested. ”If we can understand what happened in the past, it can help us understand the current perturbations and loss of diversification.”

The loss of bees would devastate the world’s food supplies. It would be remarkable if we survived it. After all, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate at least 75 percent of the vegetables, fruit and nuts grown in the U.S.

There’s no backup plan for pollination if there are no bees. Humans cannot pollinate artificially to the extent bees can. Extinction of bees due to colony collapse disorder therefore most likely would mean the extinction of us, too.

Bees, little friends, here’s hoping you’re really the Comeback Kids that scientists believe you are. Let’s hope they can figure out a way to help you survive — again. The Earth needs you.

Related Stories:

Will the U.S. Care About Bees When It Affects Our Wallets?

Heres Whats Killing Bees… and Why Were All Screwed

EPA Thinks a Piece of Paper Will Save Bees From Pesticides

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115 comments

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4:51AM PDT on Jun 25, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

6:52AM PST on Nov 30, 2013

It will take at least ten million years for the earth to rid itself of homo not sapient trash and poison after homo not sapient dies out in a frenzy of greedy mass suicide. But there's always the chance homo not sapient can push earth past the point of no return and it ends up as another lifeless Mars. In that case two billion years of life's unique evolution would be destroyed by a mentally damaged two invader with no redeeming qualities.

11:30PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

It's the pesticides that are killing the bees. We need to protect them, they are too important.

6:28AM PDT on Oct 31, 2013

What goes around comes around. We can't expect to mess around with mother nature, to the extent we have, and not see any comeback. I just feel sorry for all the species that we've made suffer - they are all the innocent victims of the polluted earth we have created.

3:26AM PDT on Oct 31, 2013

Thanks!

9:53PM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

Thank you.

3:50PM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

ty

3:16PM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

Bees are awesome and very fun to feed and watch. If you have any caramelized/ crystalized honey put a little dollop on a paper or other plate and wait. They will gather like little cows at the manger.

9:21AM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

Stop with the pesticides and just maybe they'll have a chance otherwise it's doomsville. As long as our appalling species continues to grow in nasty numbers all every animal species is at risk. We're a dumb bunch who never learn. Thanks

2:30AM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

Well, there is no shortage of them where I live. I have a hive right outside my bedroom window. They come inside at night when I switch the light on - been stung a few times already!!!!

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