More than a third of U.S. food crops are dependent on pollination by honeybees for a successful harvest. Hundreds of popular natural foods largely rely on bees for reproduction, including almonds, broccoli, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, and watermelons. By helping plants to produce seeds and fruit — and creating a very popular natural sweetener in the process — honeybees contribute an estimated $14 billion a year to the American economy, and are responsible for an abundance of many of the world’s healthiest foods.
Yet, for the past several years, a mysterious disorder has been seriously affecting honeybee populations, destroying both wild and domesticated hives. Despite years of study, scientists have still not reached a consensus on the cause of honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes worker bees at afflicted bee colonies to become disoriented en masse and abandon their hives, often with untended bee larvae still inside. Left to fend for themselves, the flightless bee larvae eventually starve and die.
Many causes have been proposed for Colony Collapse Disorder — invasive parasites, viruses, pesticide residues, genetically modified crops, and even electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones have all been put forth as possible culprits behind the disorder (but before you toss out that cell phone to save the bees, please note that environmental scientists have largely discounted that last theory).
Though no single cause of CCD has yet been pinpointed, the scientific community agrees on one thing: bees across the United States are under significant stress from a variety of sources, and if nothing is done to help them, our entire agricultural system could be at risk.
Over the past several years, wild honeybee populations have almost disappeared from the American landscape. And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just during this past winter, over one-third of domesticated honeybees kept by beekeepers died. Honeybees are dying, not just from the mysterious CCD, but also from known causes like pesticide poisoning and parasite infestations.
And not only honeybees but also many other varieties of bees, wasps and butterflies that pollinate plants are at risk from malnutrition and starvation caused by lack of access to the variety of nutritious native wild plants they once depended on for survival. A decrease in plant biodiversity, caused by agricultural monoculture and the loss of wild habitat, is contributing significantly to the stress insect pollinators face.
What can you do to help protect bees, and the healthy, natural foods they help produce? Check out our Care2 Action page for a list of simple, inexpensive steps you can take to help honeybees in your own backyard!
Honeybee photo detail courtesy USDA.