Since 2006, beekeepers have witnessed an alarming decline in their honeybee populations. In fact, over the last half decade alone, a whopping 30% of the national bee population has vanished, while almost a third of all bee colonies in the U.S. have died.
Efforts to expose this unfortunate phenomenon have exploded, allowing a new government study to lay the blame on a mixture of factors, including increased pesticide use, diminishing habitats, various viruses, poor nutrition, and cell phone towers.
Adding to the disturbing news is South Carolina. As a means for battling the Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti species of mosquito, which are thought to carry the Zika virus, the state used a pesticide that killed off millions of bees.
As a result of the continuous decline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has even proposed listing the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species for federal protection.
The bumblebee is among the many wild bee species affected by the decline over the past couple of decades, becoming the first bee in the U.S. proposed for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
“Endangered Species Act safeguards are now the only way the bumble bee would have a fighting chance for survival,” noted Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Bumblebees in particular are crucial for the pollination of wildflowers, as well as roughly a third of U.S. crops. Their economic contribution to farms is thought to amount to $3.5 billion.
Among the 47 varieties native to the U.S. and Canada, about a quarter are at risk of extinction. The rusty patched series in particular have shown a drastic decline in populations over the past 20 years — 90% since the late 1900s. Disease, pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss are all a part of the problem.
Jepsen believes this new proposal will bring more attention to the debate on neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used regularly in agriculture even though many attribute them to the declining bee population. A study published in the journal Nature even linked wild bee declines to the use of these pesticides.
Researchers in England analyzed 18 years of data on 64 wild bee species to see how the use of neonics on the oilseed rape plant affected them, and discovered that half of the total decline was a result of the insecticide.
“Wild bee species that forage on oilseed rape were three times as negatively affected by exposure to neonicotinoids than non-foragers. This supports the hypothesis that the application of this pesticide to oilseed rape is a principle mechanism of exposure for wild bee communities,” the study noted.
“Historically, if you just have oilseed rape, many bees tend to benefit from that because it is this enormous foraging resource all over the countryside,” explained lead author Dr. Ben Woodcock. “But this co-relation study suggests that once it’s treated with neonicotinoids up to 85%, then they are starting to be exposed and it’s starting to have these detrimental impacts on them.”
Despite research exposing some valuable truths, agribusiness will continue to avoid the reality of their most-prized insecticide attributing to the decline of bee populations. But consumers can make a difference. In fact, some have already forced retail stores to make changes. Lowes and Home Depot, for instance, have chosen to get rid of neonic-treated garden plants.
Companies like Bayer and Monsanto, which produce both seeds and chemicals to use on seeds and plants, are ultimately the driving forces behind neonic application. And because of their close relationship with the FDA and various government agencies, it will be tough to ban neonics altogether.
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