There is no doubt that the world's bees are in crisis, however various jurisdictions are taking different steps to address this global issue. Although scientists have not been able to pinpoint the cause, there are many theories surrounding the causes and solutions of the crisis. In addition, there are various economic considerations that may arise due to global bee extinction. The Physical, Political and Economical worlds are swiftly changing and there is no telling if the bee can be saved midst the differing agendas of the powers that be.
Here is a video from CNN which gives an overview: CNN Video
How the United States and Europe are Handling the Issue:
The Washington Post claims that bees have hit a 50year low and that the crops effected by this shortage are worth a minimum of $207billion. The Post highlights the United States and the European Union are taking two different approaches towards this crisis. For instance, the EU has put a ban on pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, an extremely popular chemical found in pesticides which is closely linked to nicotine, until scientists discover the real issue behind the decline in the bee population. There are a few debates circulating about this particular issue. For example, some scientists claim that harmful chemicals that plants ingest may be contracted by bees through their pollen, thus causing a decline in productivity. All of this concern about bees has caused the EU to ultimately commit to a two year ban of such pesticides. On the other hand, the US Agricultural Department as well as the Environmental Protection Agency put out a study which claims that there are many factors that are plaguing the bees; neonicotinoids are only one of them. These factors include; the Varroa mite, viruses, bacterial diseases, nutritional factors and pesticides. Overall, the US is taking a more economic approach. Although they are aware that the pesticides may be an issue, they are not ready to commit to any bans as they will be at odds against the multibillion dollar pesticide industry.
Source: "Why are Bees Dying? The U.S. and Europe have Different Theories"
It is evident that pesticides may play a huge part in the global bee decline, However, diet is another huge factor in the bee crisis.
Bees’ diets also play a significant role in their productivity. Bermuda entomologist Claire Jessey highlights the stresses humans put on bees as well as their diet. As aforementioned in the interview with Jessey, she claims that in the United States, commercial beekeepers travel with their bees hundreds of miles from state to state to release their bees on individual farms to pollinate monocultures. This work puts lots of stress n bees in addition to the massive oversimplification of their diets. Bees are losing out on a well balanced diet and are far less productive as a result. The Huffington Post also confirms that bees naturally thrive when they hear their own honey. The nutrients in their own food detox and strengthen their immunity. To me, that is very similar to humans and breast milk as breast milk is also a self-produced and sustaining source that grants similar services as honey does to bees. The Post also notes that bees’ diets are substituted by sugar and high fructose corn syrup as all of the honey that bees produce is harvested and sold. They also note that the National Academy of Science states that the substituted diet keeps bees from being able to fight off disease, pests and makes them more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides. Overall, the bee industry in the United States is driven by consumerism; unless producers decide to change the methods of this madness, there will be lesser profits but most importantly great impacts upon the environment as a whole.
Source: "U. S. Bee Deaths from Colony Collapse Disorder may be Tied to Diet, Study Finds"
What Else is Being Done?
Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace International notes that various organizations such as the European Commission, Greenpeace and groups related to apiculture have noted various solutions to the be crisis such as the banning of pesticides, preservation of wild habitats and the restoration of ecological agriculture. He notes that eco-farming – although it has been around since the advent of farming- is one of the best options as it promotes diversity and a lack of chemicals. Eco-farms are resistant to insect problems that monocultures are prone to. Overall, eco-farming promotes the strength of species, food webs and habitats as they take on a holistic approach, although there is only one species at risk. Furthermore, Weyler notes that many organic farms are looking into new technologies for the improvement of their ecosystems as w whole, not only for the improvement of bees. Additionally, Climate Progress notes another initiative that is taking place. They report that the US Department of Agriculture’s investment of $3million into a program that will pay farmers in the states of Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin to grow crops such as clover and alfalfa which will attract and nourish bees. Farmers can also gain incentives from moving their livestock from pasture to pasture to allow for the growth and covering of plants that attract bees to rotated pasture. Climate Progress goes on to say that these states were chosen because they are a “resting ground” for bees during the summer months. On the whole, there are many different options that can be considered if legislatures take a broadened point of view as opposed to the consumerist mentality that takes more than its willing to give.
Sources: "Honey Bee Collapse: A Lesson in Ecology" & "USDA Invests $3 Million Into Program To Boost Honeybee Numbers"
Economic Considerations In the UK and US
BBC notes that bees play a significant economical role. More specifically, they quote that the National Audit Offices says that the services of bees are worth £200million and that the retail value of their pollination equates to about £1billion. BBC confirms that there is no telling of the exact repercussions of the declining bee population on the UK’s fruit supplies. However, BBC quotes that the head of pollination research at Reading University says that the UK will have to start importing fruits from overseas. Also, BBC continues in stating that the costs related to bee-pollinating industries will increase. The UK may even have to take on pollination practices like that of China; industries were people go from plant to plant brushing the insides of flowers with pollen. This rise in labour will ultimately drive up the price of food. In my educated opinion, the economics of the bee is the most dangerous subject deal with. Although there are many people that may be put to work because of this, this does not appear to be sustainable as the price of food will increase. When the price of food increases, ultimately the price of living will increase. However, governments can make a way to subsidize the labour of pollination without increasing the price of food, yet there is no telling how this will affect the private sector. In addition, the possible increase of the cost of healthy foods cause a concern for public health as people that live in inner cities already struggle to have fresh produce. Overall, there are many factors that need to be considered when addressing the economic aspects of pollination.
Source: "The Economic Value of Honeybees"
The Economics of US Bees
The State of Bees in Bermuda
There is no doubt that bees here in Bermuda are in trouble. Entomologist, Claire Jesse and Tommy Sinclair give us greater insight on the issue. It is apparent that there has been a sharp decline in bee populations, this is most likely due to the Varroa mite. The Varroa mite, according to Ms. Jessey, is a parasite that takes residence on the abdomen of bees and feeds on its blood. In addition, developing parasites feed on bee larvae in the bee cells; pregnant female mites now emerge with the newly developed adult bee and then search for new cells to lay its eggs in. Also, this mite initially caused problems a year after its discovery in 2009. It has caused hundreds of thousands of bees to die each year as it causes many hives to crash. It is also very troublesome in that it is a vector for different viruses.
How did the mite get here?
Unfortunately, no one knows how the mite got on the island. It is suspected that it came into Bermuda on a piece of construction material or equipment. It most definitely didn’t arrive through the fight of an infected bee as bees cannot travel that far over water. Since its discovery, there has been a subsequent ban on imported bees. However, even when bees were allowed to be imported, they were only queen bees and few numbers of worker bees. The importation of bees has been very low in recent decades, therefore, it is confirmed that the issue is not caused by a foreign bee.
What has Been Done About it?
The department of Environmental protection have been visited by animal healer, Elizabeth Whiter. Whiter claims that the bees should be exposed to plants and flowers that have medicinal properties so that they can build up their immune systems and subsequently heal themselves. It is assumed that the medicinal properties of these plants can be transferred through the pollen of their flowers which the bees will subsequently make contact with. She goes on to say that as bees take nectar and pollen from plants and feed themselves as well as their developing young, the whole colony can be enriched and healed as the masses of bees eat themselves to better health. Whiter goes on to say that people should plant thyme, for its antiseptic and antimicrobial qualities as well as Echinacea for its immune stimulation properties. In addition, English Marigolds give bees Vitamin A and Sulfur, while clover supports bees immune system. Herb gardens can also play a significant role as they contain many herbs which can benefit not only humans but bees! Whiter claims that sage, marjoram, peppermint, rosemary and lavender.
Effects on Bermuda's Environment
There are great repercussions to Bermuda’s environment if bees continue to decline. Many native and endemic plants that thrive due to pollination of native bees can be negatively affected. Domestic gardening and farming will also be impacted. Gardens will become far less productive and thrive much less during seasons of suspected growth. Over the years since the Varroa mite discovery, there has been a drop in commercial farming yields. Mr. Sinclair notes that plants may not produce good seed and can produce misshapen crops. He confirms that the overall quality of fruit will be affected. Furthermore, when weather conditions are poor, it can cause even greater effect on the diverse diet of bees as well as the quality of pollination. When bees' food supply is stunted by poor weather, they tend not to pollinate was well as if they had a diverse diet. However, Mr. Sinclair also notes that Bermuda’s environment will not be affected as badly as other countries. Bermuda has a variety of other pollinators that can do the same job as bees, though not as efficiently. Ultimately, the diverse array of native and endemic plants that we are accustomed to seeing in great abundance will not be as verdant. If the seeds from these plants are not of a particular quality, they will not germinate or produce a lower quality plant as generations will become weaker and less resilient.
Other Pollinators: Wasps, Moths and Butterflies
Some Plants that will be Affected
Jessey also claims that since the fall of 2012, there have been various other issues concerning bees that have been brought to light. The first of them is Nosema infection which symptoms include: lethargic behavior, crawling and lack of honey collection. Deformed Wing Virus is also a problem that was recently noted. Nosema is another parasite that lives in the gut and is easily contagious, however it has no effect on honey. Bees can tolerate a reasonable level of this parasite, yet when the infection is serious, their colonies can collapse. Furthermore, Deformed Wing Virus is commonly carried by the Varroa mite and causes bees to be unable to fly. Ultimately, when all of these pests and ailments are present in hives, bees have a weakened immune system as they are under much pressure and their colonies end up collapsing. Jessey notes that an American scientist that has done some research on Bermuda’s bees states that although there are some bees that have recovered since the original 2009 epidemic, some of the bees are being re-infected by mutated viruses that the Varroa mite spreads. Through the process of natural selection, some bees may build up resistance. If this is the case, then Bermuda beekeepers can breed their queens in hopes to boost the bee population.
What Else Can be Done?
Some other forms of pest management include the introduction of bees that have a ‘detection and removal trait.' This trait allows adult bees to detect the mites that develop in the cells of the bees and discard them. Also, another option is to use chemical pest controls. However, Jesse asserts that there are many chemical controls that have negative effects on the bees. There are a variety of less toxic controls, but they can be far less effective. Considering that beekeepers like to keep everything organic, they try to avoid the use of chemicals. There are a few natural options for beekeepers to use such as the use of small wax cells, considering that mites like the larger cells as well as including the screen bottom board, considering that infected bees have a limited range as they fall on the ground.
Bermuda Bees Vs. USA Bees
Jesse speaks further of the international and local condition of bees and their impact on agriculture. She claims that bees are domesticated now, and this puts a lot of pressure on them. It’s worth considering the thought that bees do a lot if one accounts for the amount of work we ask them to do. In the US, hives are driven hundreds of miles from farm to farm and are put under much pressure to pollinate monocultures. Subsequently, their diets are very poor and must be supplemented by corn syrup. Bermuda bees are different as they have a lot more diversity as we don’t have monocultures. We also do not spray chemicals, therefore bees in Bermuda are in a good position and they are not suffering like in the US. The fields in the US are heavily sprayed overhead via planes and other major ways. When bees are affected like this, lots and lots of bees can be lost. When crops in the United States are not pollinated, the prices of crops will increase, corn in particular. It also makes it more difficult for farmers to stay in business as the yields are so low and it is not profitable. In Bermuda, pumpkin, squashes and melons are affected and farmers may not grow them as much – pumpkin has not been great in the past few years and it may be in part from the bees, claims Sinclair. He goes on to say that chicken and meat industries may be effected world-wide when you trace back the yields of the crops that you feed to the chickens and cows. Farmers must look at other ways of crop production to overcome this issue. However, the there are very few economic issues pertaining to pollination in Bermuda as opposed the the United States. In addition, he states that the bee issue is much like the world pandemic of cancer: there is loads of money being spent on research yet there is no cure. Ultimately, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration if there is a sustainable solution on global and local levels.
For More Information On Bermuda Bees
Royal Gazette Reports, "Bee Population Falls by 65% in Six Years"
BEST to Host "Keep Bermuda Buzzing" Bee Fair
Articles By Claire Jessey:
^ For entry on bees, see pages 6 (30) through 9 (33).
^ For entry on bees, see pages 4 (40) through 7 (43).
^ For entry on bees, see pages 2 (26) through 5 (29).
^ For entry on bees, see pages 6 through 8.
Sources: All information on this page is courtesy of Claire Jessey, Plant Protection Officer (Entomologist)
Department of Environmental Protection, Ministry of the Environment, Bermuda and Tommy Sinclair Agricultural Officer, Department of Environmental Protection, Ministry of the Environment, Bermuda.
While most residents are very familiar with the European Honey Bee, thought to have been introduced by the early setters to Bermuda around 1616, few will likely have seen its more curious cousin the Leaf Cutter Bee.
Leaf cutter bees are solitary bees from the family Megachilidae. Common to North America our resident seems to be native to Bermuda, meaning it got here on its own. To the naked eye there is little difference between our Leaf Cutter bee and the honey bee. The leaf cutter is somewhat larger and its abdomen is more white and black opposed to yellow and black. The real difference is in its life cycle. They do not create a hive with a queen and workers, they do not work together for a common cause, and they do not exhibit the aggressive behavior toward someone or some animal that ventures too close. Given their solitary nature they might not be so susceptible to things like the varroa mite that is devetating the communal Honey Bee.
The now very rare Bermuda leaf was observed in as early as 1928 making circular incisions in rose leaves and flying these back to nest in Bermuda stone walls (Ogilvie 1928). However it seems that since that time the leaf cutter bees is no longer present on main islands; only surviving in and around Nonsuch, Island. It has been seen in late spring cutting the soft leaves of the native Jamaica dogwood, Dodonaea viscose to line its burrows and gathering pollen from the flowers of the Sea Ox Eye.
One of the reasons they are efficient pollinators is their frequency of visits to plants, but this is because they are extremely inefficient at gathering pollen; compared to all other bee families, megachilids require on average nearly 10 times as many trips to flowers to gather sufficient resources to provision a single brood cell.
So between May – June every year look out what looks like a part of a leaf blowing sideways in the Castle Harbour Area. If you have observed these very distinctive insects please contact Drew Pettit at email@example.com report a sighting.
Article and photos by Andrew Pettit, Conservation Officer.