As the days lengthen and weather warms with the new season, a usual sight is the common bee – buzzing in his own bustle. Yet, as humble and inconspicuous as he may seem, he is crucial to the Earth’s ecosystem and humanity.
A study by York University published this month in the Journal of Insect Conservation found that the North American bumblebee is facing imminent extinction in Canada. According to its findings, the number of areas that the bee would be found in the country has decreased by 70%, and when compared to other species of bees, they have decreased by 89%. The researchers ranked the threat of extinction at the highest and most at-risk classification right before extinction.
Meanwhile across the seas, a recent report by the National Biodiversity Centre in Ireland said that a third of all Irish bee species could be extinct by 2030.
Yet this is not shocking nor is it something new. In the past few years, there has been an alarming and inexplicable disappearance of bees all around the world, with more far-reaching ramifications than simply what meets the eye.
Carl Chesick, the Executive Director of Center for Honeybee Research, a non-profit organisation in North Carolina, USA said: “Bees provide pollination for virtually all flowering plants, having co-evolved with many of them for 50-100 million years. In many industrial mono-culture agriculture systems, it is now necessary to rent/import honeybee colonies to ensure pollination and crop yield. This is because herbicides have been employed to kill all competition to the cash crop, and insecticides have killed the local native pollinators. Except when crop such as melons, berries, almonds, cherries, etc. are flowering, the vast expanses are “food deserts” for the bees. They must be removed as soon as the crops are pollinated or they will starve or be killed by subsequent spraying.”
Scientists have been mystified by the disconcerting bee disappearance and are still unable to pinpoint the true reason for the rapidly dwindling bee population. To date, the bee’s demise remains an amalgamation of mystery and supposition.
“We do not know why bees are dying at an unprecedented rate, but it’s safe to assume it’s something we (humankind) are causing,” Chesick explained.
“Speculation tries to be all-inclusive in asserting that it is a combination of climate change; loss of habitat; new diseases and parasites such as varroa mites which have recently jumped species; and chemical contamination of the environment. My own suspicion is that it stems from the massive use of chemicals whose interactions we haven’t even begun to analyse. I think these may be causing an auto-immune response in the bees similar to AIDS – but this is conjecture on my part.”
At present, there are no concrete solutions or quick fixes for the growing epidemic. And even if the absence of bees does not directly correlate to a result in a global famine for mankind, it is likely to result in shortages and soaring food prices.
“We need answers in a methodical elimination to find the exact cause,” Chesick admitted. “This would involve extensive laboratory testing of samples – something exorbitantly expensive until one considers the alternative to our future food security. We haven’t really started. Also, the powerful agro-chemical industry has a stake in obfuscating any blame they may share. Much of the research funding available to universities is funded by these corporations.”