Given the rate at which honeybees are dying off, scientists are increasingly becoming alarmed. However, they aren't the only ones who should be worried.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honeybees account for the pollination of 80 percent of flowering crops, representing about a third of everything eaten in the country. With honeybees dying off, less and less of these crops are being pollinated, resulting in a decline not just in yield but also in the quality of produce grown in the United States. If bees cease to exist, a number of agricultural goods will go with them, like broccoli, cantaloupes, asparagus, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons, blueberries, almonds, cranberries, cherries and apples.
Aside from aiding agricultural production, bees also offer food products themselves, like honey. In 2013, it was estimated that honey crops were valued at $317.1 million.
There's also the fact that they affect the growth of all plants, not just those for food. By pollinating far and wide, bees are able to help sustain plant growth not just all over the country but around the entire world. So, if honeybees were to be completely wiped out, people are not just looking at a dramatic decline in food crops but in the appearance of the world as well.
Scientists have been working on determining exactly what is causing bee numbers to decline, but so far, nothing definite has been found. They do have a few clues. Out of the many factors that scientists are keen on exploring is pesticide use.
Specifically, research is being focused on a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. As pesticides are widely used in crops, their components are being absorbed by bees as well. Significant declines in the bee population have been observed in areas where neonicotinoids are being used, so the European Commission has moved to ban the use of three variants of the pesticide on flowering species.
The Environmental Protection Agency, on the other hand, said that it will likely not be approving any new uses for neonicotinoids until more tests have been carried out to determine more clearly the pesticide's effects on honeybees and other pollinators in nature.
Beekeepers are prepared for losses every year as a drop in the bee population is natural when the weather is bad, but expectations are usually set to around 10 percent in an average year. According to survey results released by the Bee Informed Partnership, around 5,000 beekeepers said they lost 42.1 percent of their bees in the 12-month period that ended in April.
Photo: Martin LaBar | Flickr