If the Bees All Die

Whole Foods Market produce department without items dependent on pollinator populations. (PRNewsFoto/Whole Foods Market)

Will We Still Have Fruit if Bees Die Off? | Science Blogs | WIRED.

Interesting article on plant pollinators and their disappearance.

Although we think of the European honeybee as the main pollinator of our food crops, native species actually do a lot of the work:

In a study of 41 different crop systems worldwide, only 14% had yield increases with honey bees present. Who did all the pollination? Native bees and other insects.

These natives species are subjected to the same pesticides as the honeybees, plus they have to contend with climate change and habitat loss.  With a warming earth, plant flowering times and pollinator availability may not be in sync. So plants don’t reproduce, and pollinators starve.

50% of Midwestern native bee species disappeared over a 100 year period.

What will we do if they disappear?  Can we afford the price of food if we have to turn to hand pollination?

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Death of a Species

The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear – NYTimes.com.

This is scary – only 3 million monarch butterflies have shown up to their wintering ground in Mexico.  Last year it was only 60 million, and in times past it was a billion.  These butterflies fly over 2,000 miles from North America to a particular group of fir-covered mountaintops west of Mexico City.

This year they didn’t make it.

The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear - NYTimes.com

Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.

That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.

The high price of corn has lead to the plowing and planting of previously “weedy” land which provided food for bugs and birds.  The use of Round-Up ready GMO seeds means that any weeds are killed by the application of pesticides, while the corn continues to grow.  Unfortunately, Monarchs don’t feed on corn.

The loss of bugs is no small matter. Insects help stitch together the web of life with essential services, breaking plants down into organic matter, for example, and dispersing seeds. They are a prime source of food for birds. Critically, some 80 percent of our food crops are pollinated by insects, primarily the 4,000 or so species of the flying dust mops called bees. “All of them are in trouble,” said Marla Spivak, a professor of apiculture at the University of Minnesota.

Another cause is people – we pave over subdivisions, and then plant showy plants that aren’t good for bugs.

Trees and other plants have beneficial chemicals essential to the health of bugs. Some monarchs, when afflicted with parasites, seek out more toxic types of milkweed because they kill the parasites. Bees use medicinal resins from aspen and willow trees that are antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, to line their nests and to fight infection and diseases.

Not only are we killing off the bugs, we are inadvertently killing ourselves:

First and foremost, said Dr. Tallamy, a home for bugs is a matter of food security. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” he said. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”

Global bee decline

 

Biologists design method to monitor global bee decline.

Thirty-five percent of the global food supply depends on bees and other pollinators, including crops worth nearly $200 billion each year.

So its really important to make sure bees populations stay healthy.  Unfortunately, populations seem to be in sharp decline across the United States.

…the annual “Great Sunflower Project,” in which 100,000 citizen scientists across North America volunteer to count bee populations in their own backyards. The project, now in its fifth year, recently found low numbers of bees in urban areas across America, adding weight to the theory that habitat loss is one of the primary reasons for sharp population declines.

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