Did you know that bees once went through a mass extinction during the history of Earth? Along with many flowering plants and dinosaurs, bees were devastated by the asteroid that struck the Earth causing the K-T extinction. Bees and flowers were as closely intertwined 65 million years ago as they are now, so the extinction of bees had a profound effect on the remaining flowering plants. This in turn changed the evolution of both species.
Today bees are facing a similar crisis of high death rates. 40% of U.S. bees lost experienced colony collapse disorder in 2003-2013 (Sarich). And in 2014, 30% of U.S. bees lost in winter increased from 5-10% (BBC). This time, however, humans are the cause of the extinction.
One of the biggest causes are the decreasing availability of flower meadows. Flower meadows are a food source for bees to collect nectar for their hives and they benefit the flowers through pollination. In many places, flowering meadows are replaced with agriculture. Clearly someone did not think through how a bee can work for the befit of farming if it has no food!
Another cause of the decline of bees is climate change. Phenology or the timing of life events for flowers is happening sooner, so bees miss the optimal time to pollinate flowers because they are still in hibernation. This mismatch has caused a 50% decrease in pollination!
Lastly, bees are in decline due to pesticide misuse. Some top bee killing pesticides are neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. These pesticides have been banned in Europe and other countries, but the U.S. continues to use them. Neonicotinoids or neonics for short weakens bee immune systems and makes it harder for them to learn where to find food and their hives!
What do we stand to lose with bees? For starters: apples, carrots, onions, brazil nuts, melons, limes, and coconuts. We cannot have these crops without bees.
In addition: no more honey, beeswax, bee pollen, or flowers. But hey, we could live without these food crops, right? On one hand, the last time bees went extinct, not everything died. Just most organisms, especially megafauna and megaflora. Interestingly, the K-T extinction gave mammals the chance to become a dominant life form on Earth which ultimately led to the evolution of humans. Perhaps humans are making a full circle of survival for mammals on the planet.
But I don’t really want that! I do not want my fellow humans or other organisms to suffer food shortages because of human mistakes.
Some ways you can help bees are: plant flowers for the bees, use as little pesticides as possible on your garden, support local beekeepers, learn about and join bee organizations such as Honeybee Health Coalition and Pollinator Partnership.
For more on how scientists discovered that bees went extinct, visit this website. For more information on the importance of bees and their decline today, click here. For a list of foods we will lose if we don’t save the bees, check out this page.