What are the dangers for Bees?
Bees are in BIG trouble. There is growing concern at bee decline across the world. This decline is caused by a variety of issues that include climate change, loss of habitat, reduced genetic diversity and food source and exposure to pesticides. Many native wild bee species, such as bumblebees and leafcutter bees, are suffering severe population losses around the globe, and more and more species facing extinction and drops in numbers.
Today, the UK has just 3% of the ancient Wildflower meadow It once had 80 years ago. Wildflower such as wild orchids, cornflowers, bluebells and cowslips are an extremely important a part of Britain’s nature, and the decline in diverse land has been massive issue for Bees and insects, which has resulted in a huge reduction in food source and nesting locations. A consistent increase in urban development up and down the country and around the world has resulted in a huge loss of wild spaces. Although creating, encouraging and dedicating more wild flower and diverse areas is a crucial part of progress towards re-wilding, big changes in the way we manage our personal, public and agricultural lands need to be made to reverse the effects of recent destruction of habitats. Ancient wild herbs, plants and flowers that Bees and insects once relied on have been classed as ‘weeds’, subsequently having no purpose and eradicated. This has resulted in many being near impossible to find. Commercial Wild Flower Seed packets are again, good and encouraging, but this seed is commercially/mass produced, and produce much less pollen and nectar compared to ‘wild’ wildflower seed. It is always best to source wild seed whereever you can, for healthier, stronger and more productive plants. The once blossoming countryside and landscapes have been swapped for agricultural land, well-trimmed grass fields and concrete slabs, and the quality and fertility of our soils being sacrificed more and more.
It is true, Bees are the perfect pollinators! Their work helps plants to grow, breed and produce food for many other living creatures. Over thousands and thousands of years, flowers have developed a sweet nectar and pollen in order to attract Bees and other pollinators to them. Pollination happens, when Bees (and other pollinating insects) transfer pollen that catches on to their bodies, between plants that are flowering whilst they are collecting nectar, pollen from other plants that the bee has visited previously, brush on the current plant the bee is collecting from, fertilising it and allowing the cycle of life to continue. Many plants that we humans rely on for food rely on this method of pollination, especially via Bees. This is because there are some crops that require specific species of bee to pollinate them successfully or of efficiently in terms of quality of produce, from shelf life to nutritional value. One example being, when we grow everyday apples, a grower will ideally benefit from the free pollination from the Red Mason Bee. This species is found to be up to around 100 times more efficient at pollinating apple blossoms than Honeybees.
Because of Bees, we can enjoy an abundance of different varieties of fruit, vegetables and crops for our consumption. Without Bees, a long list include favourites such as onions, apples, coffee and squashes would no longer be available for us, crops for medicinal purposes too. Bees also pollinate around 80% of wildflowers across Europe, so our aesthetically, our green spaces and countryside would be much less diverse and beautiful without the assistance of bees too!
These are a huge problem for our bees, in recent years, the overuse of harmful chemicals has resulted in the loss of around 80% of our flying insects. Modern farming’s overuse of chemical pesticides and fertilizers is horribly destructive for Bees. Research is still ongoing for a lot of chemicals out there, but research has shown that pesticides and herbicides are known to affect Bee’s ability to collect food, navigate and it can slow the development of a colony and larval development.
Neonicotinoids are extremely harmful to Bees and other insects. Scientific research has shown that neonicotinoids have a sub-lethal poisoning effect on the Bees; this will not kill them outright, but has a long-term harmful impact on the entire Bee colony. A ban on outdoor use of three neonicotinoids, Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam, has been a great breakthrough, but it is still a long way off banishing the use of many other harmful chemicals for good.
For more detailed information on pesticides and herbicides, check out the Pesticide Action Network. They work to promote safe and sustainable alternatives to harmful chemicals and pesticides. The following link also explains the link between Bee declines and pesticides and more detail: issuu.com/pan-uk/docs/bee_factsheet_no_9
Our lovely tiny friends aren’t usually what you think of when it comes to things that are affected by climate change, but we should all be looking a little more closely. Climate change has been causing problems in a few concerning ways including shrinking their habitat, climate shifts, temperature rises and mis-timings in natural cycles. Bees are reliant on nature’s natural cycles and cues, therefore, confusing climate shifts, temperature changes and strange weather patterns are all interlinked problems for bees. Research shows that there is a concern if Bees start to come out of hibernation early and mis-time pollination, which could have a huge impact of the health of Bees and plants and crops. This is on top of ever shrinking habitat. Their range is getting smaller and smaller. Rise in temperature also means that the risk of mites and parasites is greater too.
Research also has shown, that bees probably won’t be able to adapt to a changing climate by shifting their ranges in habitats to counter the effects of climate changes, unlike butterflies for example, which are able to migrate their populations. Bees are not as adaptable. This means, if were aren’t able to reverse some of the effects of climate and support Bees and their habitats to the extent needed, it is a very real possibility, that bees could one day run out of habitat completely.
Parasites and Disease
Unfortunately, the problems for Bees don’t stop there. Bees are also particularly vulnerable to mites and parasites, and these parasites actually thrive in the heat. As the temperatures rise and climate patterns shift, Bees are continuing to face even greater threats from these unwanted pests. This very real threat can cause Colony Collapse and wipe out entire hives. Parasites survive by taking all the needs of life from another living organism. Host organisms will try their best to avoid, prevent or destroy parasites, meanwhile the parasites will evolve survival strategies in retaliation to the host’s defence. Since the parasite normally reproduces faster than its host, it is more difficult for the host to adapt than the parasite. Surprisingly, a parasite does not want or intend to kill its host, and they do often adapt to minimise damage to their host.
Some attack adult or larval honey bees, some of which can cause extreme difficulties for survival of the colony. The most common parasites of honey bees are members of the mite family, but other minor parasites are found worldwide from other groups including protozoans (such as amoeba) flies, nematodes and beetles.
Some common dangerous mites for Bees are Acarine mites or Tracheal Mites. They infect the breathing tubes of the adult Honeybee, having serious effects on the individual bee’s ability to breathe, and consequently on the whole colony’s ability to collect honey, thermoregulate and respire. In susceptible colonies they can cause high death rates.
Varroa mites are large mites that you are able to see with your eyes, that cause huge amounts of damage to colonies. Tropilaelaps is another dangerous mite for Bees.
Unfortunately there are still no reliable or effective therapeutic remedies for the viral diseases of Bees. In some severe cases the only treatment is the destruction of colonies that have been affected. In some less severe cases, you can try to replace the queen and the infected honeycombs, which will be destroyed. The infected hives must be properly cleaned and disinfected before being used.
Reduced Genetic Diversity
Genetic diversity is essential for the overall success and health of the species. Without it, it means populations are much more vulnerable to any pests, diseases and other problematic events. It is crucial because it helps organisms to cope with current environmental unpredictability, as well as lessening the possibly damaging effects of close relatives breeding. Genetic diversity is also the primary basis for adaption in the face of future environmental insecurity.
Living organisms’ existing environments change through many conditions such as size of competitor’s cultures, weather, resource availability and disruptive events. If organisms lived in a stable environment with little in terms of variation, a standard phenotype might be best because the phenotype would be optimally adjusted to the stable environment’s conditions. But, because the world is naturally packed with unstable environments, numerous phenotypes are needed, especially when it comes to preventing disease through genetic disease resistance. Populations that are genetically identical are especially susceptible to pathogens and diseases. Therefore genetic diversity and keeping many different species of Bees alive is SO important.