Bees, while terrifying for some and a nuisance for others, play a valuable source in our ecosystem.
Scientifically known as anthophila, bees are among the world’s greatest insect pollinators encouraging reproduction among plants. It is believed that as much as a third of the food consumed by humans can be traced back to our friendly pollinators.
Yet, for all of their painstakingly hard work, bees often suffer the brunt of an ever changing climate. Soil pests -- a foe to pollinators and farmers alike, present challenges when crop season kicks off earlier than normal or lasts longer than usual. Seasonal shifts in the environment are a result of climate change and give way to soil pests who feast on the very crops bees are responsible for pollinating. To deal with the changes and ward off pests, the farming industry has generally relied on powerful pesticides to which bees are not typically immune.
With such a significant annual undertaking, bees have become the subject of a hotly contested scientific debate: Are climate change and pesticides disrupting the production of one of society’s most hardest working species?
The Harm of A Warming Planet
While bees have been around for some 100 million years, evolving and adapting to the changing elements, the scientific community concurs that the earth’s climate is posing a major threat to them.
Pollination and plant life is an age old synchronization. What appears to us as a natural phenomenon is actually a carefully orchestrated blooming effect in which plants signal a call to nature -- or their pollinators, who then carefully construct each step within the pollinating phase. Year over year, a bee’s skilled execution in the transferring of pollen grains from the male anther to the female stigma is a key element in biodiversity.
In the midst of climate change, plant life unable to withstand higher than usual temperatures are at risk for wilting or even dying during a harvest season. Because bees rely on a plant’s nectar for food, starvation suddenly becomes a stark reality. Further, a low producing harvest makes pollination scarce and impacts future reproduction in plant life. This decrease in crop growth also takes its toll on the agriculture industry, especially in developing nations for which agriculture is a key economical component.
Migration efforts of bees are yet another component which suffers under climate change. Swarms forced to migrate farther than usual as a result of warming temperatures deplete energy reserves and increase the likelihood of death for bees. With fewer bees pollinating, the ecosystem is once again compromised. Increasing global temperatures put into focus the fact that pollination has become an arduous task for bees.
The Impact of Pesticides
Another grave threat to our buzzing friends are the continued use of pesticides. Neonicotinoids are an extremely toxic pesticide and a popular choice within the farming community. Widely used due to their effectiveness, neonicotinoids have the capacity to withstand weather erosion and survive far past harvesting seasons, making it even more fatal to the soil pests that consume it. Yet, for all of their economical benefits, neonicotinoids have demonstrated controversial outcomes for bees. Though not thought to be harmful to humans, the use of neonicotinoids is meant to tackle insects that might otherwise harm crops. The spray coats plants and sticks to their seedlings. Neonicotinoids can then continue their wrath for an extended period by sticking to the hairs of bees. This transmittal of pesticides from a harvest to its nest is especially harmful as it can put an entire bee colony at risk.
In a recent field study spanning 2 years and 3 countries, scientists monitored the use of neonicotinoids and their impact on our vital pollinators. The study revealed that while the pesticide was fatally toxic to bees, many of those who managed to outlive the poison often went on to experience adverse neurocognitive and physiological effects. These effects included disorientation and issues with reproduction which could directly infringe upon a bee’s ability to successfully pollinate. Scientists concluded that while continued use of neonicotinoids might not impact all bees, it does pose a credible threat to future pollinating endeavors. It’s also worth noting that while some bees have a greater chance of withstanding the toxic chemicals found in neonicotinoids, their very use should serve as a warning that other bee types may not possess the same level of adaptability.
The Future of Bees
A bee’s work is pivotal not only in plant reproduction, but also in feeding the world. Through conservation efforts, we must acknowledge the very real dangers of both climate change and pesticides and their impacts on these precious insects.The value of their work is hard to appreciate. They perform a thankless, assiduous job for which humans would never be able to physically complete. And therein lies the virtue of bees.