Save the Bees: Pollution vs Pollination

You’ve probably been hearing the warning for a while now. The bee population is declining all over the country, experts have claimed. And with this decrease, scientists have logically feared that pollination might suffer, too. Well, according to a recent University of Toronto study, those fears are warranted.

This press release from the University of Toronto details the culprit of this phenomena:

“Bee numbers may have declined at our research site, but we suspect that a climate-driven mismatch between the times when flowers open and when bees emerge from hibernation is a more important factor,” says James Thomson, a scientist with U of T’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Simply put, because of global warming, flowers are blossoming before bees wake up from their winter slumber.

Three times each year, Thomson compared the fruiting rate of unmanipulated flowers to that of flowers that are supplementally pollinated by hand. “Early in the year, when bumble bee queens are still hibernating, the fruiting rates are especially low,” he says. “This is sobering because it suggests that pollination is vulnerable even in a relatively pristine environment that is free of pesticides and human disturbance but still subject to climate change.”

Thomson is doing the longest study of pollination ever. He has spent 17 years studying wild lilies in the Rocky Mountains, and each year he has recorded a decline in pollination.

But, it isn’t just global warming to blame for the decrease, either. According to this National Geographic article form 2004:

The honeybee decline, which is affecting domesticated and wild bee populations around the world, is mostly the result of diseases spread as a result of mites and other parasites as well as the spraying of crops with pesticides, scientists say.

Mites that can suffocate bees by blocking their air supply is of course not a man-made problem. But harmful pesticides are. A cleaner solution must be made.

But, why should we care?

As that National Geographic article puts it:

Bees, via pollination, are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of the food U.S. consumers eat.

The general public most notably associates honey with bees, but if a decline in pollination gets worse year after year, say goodbye to certain fruits and vegetables. The income of our nation’s hardest workers, the farmers, will suffer, as well. According to a 2006 NPR article:

[A major National Academies] report’s authors warn the losses could have a big impact on some farmers, such as the almond growers of Central California.

Growers there depend on commercial beekeepers to produce their billion-pound nut crop, which is among the state’s most valuable agricultural product.

The world’s bee population is important for everything from farmers trying to make a living to the very food that we eat. It’s one thing for natural threats like mites and parasites to take their shots at bees. Humans have tried ways to combat that problem. But pesticides? Global warming? Again, we are kicking ourselves in the collective butt due to man-made processes that are endangering our way of life, not to mention another species.

We need bees. Let’s not let them down, because if we can stop this tragic decline in pollination, bees won’t us let down either.

If you’re in the area, check out Philadelphia’s 2010 Honey Festival this weekend, September 10-12. It will celebrate the importance of bees, and, of course, honey! Learn more here: Philadelphia 2010 Honey Festival.

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