What are the reasons and causes for bee decline? The general reasons are:
Potential future threats include pollution and possible changes in weather patterns - or climate change.
You can read some of the bee decline statistics here.
However, there are things
you and I can do to help reverse the decline in bee populations. With greater awareness and direct action by concerned citizens, we really can make a difference to bees and pollinators, of that I am certain.
Together we can make a difference, so let's just do it!
With building development,
urbanization and intensive farming practices, we have lost many wildflower
meadows and hedgerows.
The loss of hedgerows is significant, because they provide
foraging opportunities for bees, as well as potential nest sites
(for example, crevices and abandoned mouse holes at the base of the hedgerow).
Loss of flower habitat - especially wild flower meadows, fields and verges, is of great concern. An Anglo-Dutch study has found that since the 1980s, we have witnessed a 70% drop in key wildflower species, including plants from the pea, mint, and perennial herb families.
According to the United Nations, 20,000
flowering plant species upon which many bee species depend for food are at risk
in the future, unless more effort it made to conserve and preserve them.
Habitat is important not only for food, but to ensure genetic diversity.
If habitat is destroyed, there can be a tendency for patches of appropriate habitat to become fragmented and isolated.
Instead of mating occurring between bees of different colonies spread
through a range of habitat locations, in-breeding occurs in isolated
In bumble bees this causes all
kinds of problems, such as the production of males instead of female
workers. This kind of problem
When nesting sites are reduced,
this obviously increases competition between bees for appropriate and safe
places in which they can raise their colonies.
Bumble bee queens, for example, have been shown to fight even to the death
over nest sites!
Delay in finding appropriate spaces to rear a colony, means a later start in the season, which may in itself have its knock on effects.
There are some initiatives in various countries and communities to create habitat for bees, and there are things you can do.
Is it realistic to believe the notion that insectides kill ‘nasty
insects’ whilst conveniently leaving alone the ‘nice’ bees, butterflies, hoverflies,
lacewings and ladybugs?
A quick look at
the patents of pesticides can be a real eye-opener – here is an example.
Neonicotinoid insecticides have
received considerable criticism. They are
used over vast areas of land, are mobile in water and soil, can contaminate ground water and field margin plants, remain in the soil for years, and even tiny amounts below
the recommended dose have a harmful effect on bees. See this interesting reference - a paper by Prof Dave Goulson (clicking the link opens a new window):
Pesticides can cause acute mortality (i.e. sudden death, occurring very quickly after consuming the poison), or chronic mortality (i.e. death occurs slowly, perhaps by impairing the normal functioning of the bee or colony in some way).
There have been attempts to side-step the relevance of pesticides as a causal factor in bee decline. In the environment, it is very difficult if not impossible to pinpoint one particular pesticide as a causal factor in bee deaths. Nevertheless, some field trials and experiences of many beekeepers point to neonicotinoids as a causal factor at least in some cases.
However, this misses the point to a certain extent. The regulatory systems for pesticides globally, have been found to be woefully inadequate, and this needs to be addressed. See this EU report, and examples from the USA and Australia. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that the regulatory system is more about ensuring no negative effects are reported, rather than protecting bees and the environment by testing properly.
If industry is not challenged by the regulatory system, they (and farming) will not be motivated to find better solutions. Farmers, in my view, are falsely reassured and misled by the regulatory system.
Please see this page about myths and flawed arguments used to defend neonicotinoids.
Bee decline does not only apply to honey bees, but wild bees and other insect pollinators (and many invertebrate species generally).
The finger is often pointed to Varroa as the single cause, but Varroa mite only affects honey bees, not other bee species.
Cutting out pesticide use could play an important role in stemming disease and pathogens in bees, but there are other issues, such as spread of disease from commercially reared species to wild bees. See this report (opens a new window).
Scientists have found that even moderate levels of air pollution interfere with the abilities of bees to pick up floral scents at distance. You can read more about this subject here.
The effects of climate change on bees and bee decline are complex, but in altering the weather patterns and cycles, this has had some impact, for example:
Although bee decline is a worrying issue, nevertheless, there is much we can do - many simple actions we ourselves can take.
As some-one who has campaigned and experimented with different ways to help bees, I have been encouraged to see more species of bees in my garden this year than in previous years, including 2 uncommon species of bumblebee.
There is far greater buzz about bees than ever before, and increasing awareness of our need to change and try to garden in ways that assist and enhance biodiversity. Gardeners are deliberately choosing plants to help bees and other pollinators, and so together, we are creating feeding stations and bee-sanctuaries across the countries in which we live!
That's good news for bees, biodiversity and people alike!
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