April 19th 2011 Posted at General
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report based on research carried out by the International Bee Research Association on March 11 2011 which highlights the plight of bees around the world. The research was led by an international team of researchers, Dr. Peter Neumann of the Swiss Bee Research Centre, Dr Marie-Pierre Chauzet of the French Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety and Dr Jeffrey Pettis of the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Center. It’s findings are of great concern to all of us as not only are bees one of the indicators of problems in the environment, but also one of the pollinators of food crops that we rely on to pollinate 70 out of the world’s 100 most staple food crops.
Factors which have led to a decline of bees include the use of pesticides and insecticides which destroy bees as well as unwanted pests, lack of conservation efforts to maintain and conserve flowering plants which are crucial to wild bees and climate change which is changing weather patterns and causing plants to flower at different times which do not suit bees. (They hibernate and so if flowers bloom early, they do not get to the pollen before the flowers die.) Air pollution also affects bees as they are unable to ‘sniff out’ flowers as their scent does not travel as far as it used to in the days before the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.
The report highlights the need for us to act to preserve the environment which supports bee colonies and to change the ways pests and insects are controlled by farmers.
Although some beekeepers are now keeping bees in man-made hives and transporting bee colonies across countries so that they can pollinate crops this is not an ideal solution to the decline in bee numbers as it is estimated that 10 % of bees die after being transported. This number, in addition to the depletion of bees in their natural habitat means that we are not succeeding in efforts to maintain and increase bee populations.
Bees and the Green Economy
2012 will see the successor to the first Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 1992. The researchers from the International Bee Research Association are pressing for bees to be high on the agenda. There is a need for all countries to create sustainable development initiatives and lower the carbon footprint of industry and agriculture. Bees are important as they are the main pollinators of our food crops. Bees are under threat for several reasons; -
- Alien species such as Asian hornets are predators of European honey bees and these have spread through Europe, while the Africanized bee has migrated to the US. The varroa mite also feeds on bee fluids and this is becoming more prevalent.
- Climate change is responsible for the earlier flowering of plants and differing rain patterns which affects crops and so the habitats of bees.
- Air pollution means that bees cannot smell food flowers until they are very close to them so they have to hunt for longer to find food and they expend a lot of energy to do this.
- Electromagnetic sources such as power lines disturb bees in their hunt for nectar and can disorientate them.
- Herbicides and pesticides can damage bees’ memories as well as killing them outright.
The report also highlights the fact that North America currently has the fewest pollinators (which include bees, moths and other insects) than at any other time in the last 50 years. The loss of pollinators in Europe began in the mid 1960s and has accelerated since 2004. In Japan a quarter of beekeepers “have recently been confronted with sudden losses of heir bee colonies.” Even though some beekeepers have been trying to assist their bees in their struggle for survival, Dr Neumann said “Man-made colonies [are] increasingly vulnerable to decline and collapse.” There has to be improved management of the landscape in order to restore bee populations to a sustainable level the report concludes.
Honey bee colony losses in the US
International bee research association
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