Americans may have largely shrugged off the ongoing mass bee deaths, but at least scientists are still on the case. Supporting several previous studies, new research by the USDA and University of Maryland links pesticides to Colony Collapse Disorder, which not only threatens the existence of bees, but also the human food supply. Moreover, the research also suggests that fungicide plays a similarly large role in bee deaths.
While previous research has found correlations between pesticide use and bee fatalities, what makes this new study unique is the in depth autopsy performed on affected bees. Specifically, scientists looked at the combination of toxins with which the bees were dealing. The average pollen sample contained nine different pesticides and fungicides, though one test was found to include 21 such chemicals.
This chemical exposure is too much for most bees to contend with, leaving them particularly weak and susceptible to parasites. Putting this theory to the test, researchers gave pesticide-laden pollen to healthy bees and found they were no longer able to withstand infections.
In particular, when fungicides were present in pollen, bees were three times as likely to succumb to parasitic infection. This discovery is important because, while pesticide use is supposed to be restricted to minimize exposure to bees, fungicides are not regulated since they aren’t thought to harm insects.
“The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have [been] led to believe,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, one of the study’s authors. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.
Since chemicals seem to be working in conjunction to devastate bee populations, Europe’s current solution of banning certain pesticides may be too narrow of an effort to actually save bees.
This University of Maryland study is not the only one examining pesticides and bees to emerge in recent weeks. An international study demonstrated that neonicotinioids (a particular kind of pesticides) not only killed bees, but also bat and amphibian populations. Another study more concretely showed how diminishing bee populations similarly decreases plant reproduction. Fortunately, Monsanto hasn’t managed to buy and silence every research firm that finds its practices responsible for bee deaths!
According to USDA, one in three bites of food we eat is the direct or indirect result of bee pollination. Experts anticipate that the reduction in pollination due to fewer bees will result in higher food prices in the near future. Hopefully all of this research will spawn substantial action.
Although protecting the bees should be motivation enough in itself, it also means protecting the food supply on the whole. It would be really shortsighted to continue dismissing Colony Collapse Disorder as one of nature’s unsolvable mysteries.