Scientists have spent years trying to figure out the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, involving the loss of around 10 million beehives over the last six years. Mites, nutritional deficiencies and pesticides have been linked to it, but more research has been needed for more definitive answers. According to a report in respected PLOS ONE, scientists have made another breakthrough; unfortunately, it’s far more complex than previously thought.
According to a group of scientists at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’s a combination of pesticides and fungicides that is contaminating the pollen bees use to feed their hives.
The researchers collected pollen from watermelon and cranberry crops on the east coast and fed it to healthy bees. The pollen was found to have an average of nine different pesticides and fungicides in it, which made the bees more susceptible to a parasite linked to Colony Collapse Disorder. The researchers concluded that bees who ate these fungicides were three times more likely to be infected and die, which means a whole new set of regulations will be needed since fungicides haven’t previously been part of the link. Even worse, it’s apparently not one specific chemical causing it, or one specific combination; it’s a myriad of chemicals and combinations, making it extremely difficult to fix.
It’s not just what’s used, either. The sample bees pollinated weeds and wildflowers more than crops that were actually sprayed. Researchers are unsure which types of crops are causing the chemicals to drift over to other plants, which will require further research.
Of course the solution sounds simple: stop spraying chemicals all over the plants! Sadly it’s not that easy, especially when so many economies rely on profits made through crops. For example, Quartz points out that it takes 60% of the country’s surviving bee population to pollinate California almond crops. Since the state supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, that’s a pretty big deal.
It’s sad and scary to think about how many products we “rely” on that are destroying the bee population. We like to think we need these pesticides and fungicides in order to maintain a strong agricultural industry, but the fact of the matter is that the industry wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for bees. I’m hoping to see honeybees become a federally protected species. Surely if seagulls can get government protection, the buggers that help us grow food can get it too.