(Image credit: The Honey Thief WA)
The bees are one of our most important ecological allies, thanks to their role ensuring our food plants reproduce. But it’s starting to seem like our favourite fuzzy buzzers are getting sick of our mess.
For over a decade, a disease called colony collapse disorder has been destroying bee populations worldwide. Because bees pollinate many of our staple crops, their deaths threaten our food supplies.
A team of Australian researchers found that bees buzzing around biodiverse, wooded areas had higher metabolic rates, meaning their little furry bodies were performing life-sustaining functions faster than bees in a deforested landscape. In other words, it seems that rather than looking harder for nectar, bees in developed landscapes are relying more on food in their hives. But if even the bees are giving up, what hope is left for us?
The scientists measured metabolic rates and food intake by feeding bees from six hives candy laced with radioactive rubidium and radioactive sodium, respectively. They put three hives in an undisturbed wooded area with lots of Australian wildflowers, and another three on a recently-cleared pine plantation. After feeding, the team measured the amounts of each radioactive element in the returning bees: more used rubidium means more carbon dioxide expenditure and therefore more energy use, while comparing the radioactive sodium in the food to the sodium in the nectar helped the scientists quantify food intake. Turns out, bees in the cleared plantation had significantly slower metabolisms and ate significantly less than the bees in the woods.
(Image credit: The Honey Thief WA)
These results were the exact opposite of what the researchers expected; they thought bees in the area with less biodiversity might look harder for food and expend more energy. In recent studies, it points out that bees typically fly less when they’ve got well-stocked hives (as we all do). The researchers assumed that the amount of resources in the hives would be the same, but did not control for those amounts, since the study was more of a proof-of-concept to determine how well the radioactive element tagging method worked for insects.
The conclusion does not bode well for folks worried about the bees. The news has been around for a few years, there are some people (or bigger companies) not worried, but bees will always be a big deal.
According to other reports, 84 percent of our food crops rely on bees and insects for pollination. Obviously the study has its limitations: six hives on one site is not a whole lot, and there are plenty of other factors, like number of bees foraging, that could influence the observed change in metabolic rate. Plus, they only used honeybees, and not other types of bees, for the study.
Still, if clearing the landscape is causing bees to say “I'm gone” and stay in their hives, we'd want to find a way to get them to, you know, not do that. Anyway, don’t give up, little guys, sorry we ruined your homes and stuff but we need you all around.
Meal without bees would look like this;
Breakfast After Decline of Bees
Almonds, blueberries, sunflower seeds/oil, coffee, orange juice, pumpkin seeds/granola, raspberries and strawberries. Apparently, the butter block is canola oil whose crops would also be affected, although should not be eaten by humans/mammals.
Dessert After Decline of Bees
One in every three bites of food consumed around the world depends on pollinators, bees in particular, for a successful crop and without these hard-working insects, most of our favourite foods would sadly not exist.
Bees are responsible for the reproduction of alfalfa and clover, which feed cattle and other grazing animals, so without them we would lose a significant portion of our milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt and ice creams.
Watch: Bees are dying. Will drones take over their job of pollinating plants?
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