Situation

Beginning of the 1990s, scientists around the globe begun researching and reporting the mysterious and rapid decline in bee population. In recent years, beekeepers, mostly in Europe and North America, have reported annual hive losses that exceed the 30 percent mark. A number that is significantly higher than what is considered sustainable loses.

The winter of 2015 was recounted as the worst so far, with hive losses around the 50 percent mark. Compared to 2014, total losses (winter and summer) have worsened by at least 8 percent. Never before had summer hive losses rivalled winter hive losses. This phenomenon has now occurred for two consecutive years.

The above mentioned survey is conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America, and generously funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). If you want to know more about the survey, it is published here.

The first institution to react to the gravity of the situation was the European Commission (EC). In 2013, the EC made a statement that they intent to ban certain classes of pesticides.  In 2016, there is a partial ban on some of those pesticides. In the United States, a variety of pesticides, such as the neonicotinoids are currently being reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Causes

Bee-killing pesticides carry the majority of the blame for the decline of the bee population. By far, research consentaneity links the global bee decline to industrial agriculture, climate change and various parasites.

Two neonicotinoids stand out from the pesticides, as they have been proven to reduce the lifespan of male honey bees along with their number of living sperm. By reducing the reproduction ability of male bees, known as drones, thiamethoxam and clothianidin directly affect the survival and productivity of the queen of the hive. Since, the queen’s health is inadvertently connected to her successful mating with the male bees.  Thiamethoxam and clothianidin are two of three especially harmful agricultural chemicals that have been banned in Europe exactly due to the decline of bee population.

Furthermore, unprecedented levels of toxic pesticides have been found in bee hives across Europe and North America. When exposed to those neonicotinoids, bees begin to lose their navigational skills. As a result, they do not make it back to the hive, and die out.

It was in early 1990s, when governments around the world registered and approve the use of insecticides. At that level, many questions remained unanswered, and research on the topic was not advanced. As a matter of fact, there was no research regarding harmful to bees pesticides in the 1990s, because bee hives were healthy.

Interestingly enough, neonicotinoids were welcomed to the market as a safer alternative to previously used pesticides, such as organochlorines and organophosphates. However, neonicotinoids is a systemic pesticides, which means that it stays with the plant during its growth. It is not sprayed over the leafs of plants, but rather it is applied to the roots of the plant.

So, since neonicotinoids stay with the plant, bees are exposed to them through the nectar and pollen. It has been proven that neonicotinoids are extremely toxic not only to bees, but to a variety of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. There is no way for beekeepers to prevent bees to the exposure of these toxic compounds.

Solution

How can we save the bees?

There is a lot of research available that suggests a variety of modern ecological farming methods as the solution to the pesticides problem. This type of farming does not rely on synthetic chemical solutions and it promotes biodiversity and restoration of semi-natural habitat on farmlands.

By building high quality habitats on agricultural farmlands, we can help bees survive the winter by providing them nesting sites and food. Currently, the majority of bee hives are part of industrially managed farm fields, which lack natural and even semi-natural habitats for the bees. As such, these farming fields cannot support healthy wild bees.

Beekeepers have suggested that a progressive phasing out of all toxic pesticides, together with ecological farming can halt the decline of bees around the world.