In the words of A. Einstein, life without these insects would be a global disaster. 'Man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man'.
Thus it is concerning that bees are gradually disappearing from many places on the planet.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that there are 100 crop species that provide 90% of food around the world and 71 of these are pollinated by bees. In Europe alone, 84% of the 264 crop species and 4,000 plant varieties exist thanks to pollination by bees.
The bee population in the United States in 2012 declined by 60%, far above the normal 5% to 10% after the winter season. This has led experts to rate 2012 as the worst year in history for beekeeping. Why are these insects disappearing?
Pesticides and bees
In Oregon 50,000 bees died due to the effects caused by a pesticide, this is an example of how different substances can have an impact. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) confirmed that the cause behind the mass death of bees in Europe is specifically the use of a particular type of fertiliser called neonicotinoids.
The mixture of substances interferes with the learning circuits in insects' brains (Nature Magazine releases*). They make them slower to learn or they completely forget basic associations for their survival, such as linking floral aroma and food. The bees dies as they are not able to feed themselves.
Consequently, the EU has reacted and in 2013 has banned the use of 3 pesticides with the measure coming into effect at the end of the year allowing farmers time to adapt.
Killer mites and bees
The team led by Christopher Connolly (University of Dundee, GB) has researched the impact of two insecticides (neonicotinoids and coumaphos) used in beehives to kill the Varroa mite.
It is an external bee parasite that feeds on its blood. The bee's offspring will die or be born with deformities that stop it from performing the tasks of the colony.
The results from using pesticides only last 3 or 4 years since they then become immune. New non-polluting treatments are not being tried: such as grapefruit essential oil or powdered sugar.
Climate change and pollution effects in bees
Air pollution reduces the strength of chemical signals sent out by flowers and bees and other insects find it more difficult to locate them. Climate change makes the situation worse as it alters flowering and the amount of plants due to rainy seasons, which affects the quantity and quality of nectar.
Terrible consequences of bees disappearing
In light of the above, the disappearance of bees would cause a true food crisis. Around 84% of commercial crops depend on bee pollination. For example, in Andalusia (Spain) in 1987 a good sunflower harvest was expected but this did not occur due to the lack of beehives; this was caused by the loss of bees from the varroa mite.
Brussels has already banned the 3 pesticides. We will have to wait and see new figures after the introduction of the ban.
In terms of eliminating the mite, inventors in the United States has come up with an electrical system called Mitezapper, an electric box that irradiates heat and is 85% effective.
The University of Pennsylvania fights it with formic acid and other beekeepers have used powdered sugar. The University Mar del Plata (Argentina) has trialled essential grapefruit oil with positive results.
We can also fight this problem in our everyday life by taking steps to combat climate change and pollution although, even so, we are faced with questions such as:
Are there other measures? Are we in time to fix it or should we also work on preventing this phenomenon? Are other animals disappearing that at first do not seem to be essential yet without whose activity we could not conceive life?