Frequently Asked Questions
Dubbed colony collapse disorder, or CCD, this epidemic has been a major concern for the world's food producers. Bee colonies are vital for plant pollination. Without pollination, plants don't bear fruit.
Over the past few years, many hypotheses have been put forth as to why bees aren't returning to their hives. Some believe that global climate change is confusing the bees while others wonder if atmospheric electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers is interfering with bees' delicate navigation mechanisms. Still, others believe that parasites may be responsible for the bees' disappearance.
Whether or not these elements have anything to do with bee colony collapse disorder is unknown. However, a recent study has demonstrated significant evidence that pesticides used in farming are directly related to the bee population decline over the past decade.
This scientific study, undertaken by Dr. Richard Gill and colleagues at the University of London and featured recently in Nature magazine [Reference], indicates that two pesticides may be the cause of colony collapse disorder. In the words of Gill and team, "chronic exposure...to two pesticides...impairs natural foraging behaviour and increases worker mortality."
While previous studies examined the impact of pesticides on the individual physiology of bees, Gill's study focused on overall hive behaviour and survival as related to the pesticides neonicotinoid and pyrethroid. While these pesticides may have subtle effects at the individual level, their combined impact on bee hive survival, whether through shared metabolic processes or reduced hive communication ability, was shown to be lethal.
So what are we going to do? What are we going to do about this big bee bummer that we've created? It turns out, it's hopeful. Every one of you out there can help bees in two very direct and easy ways. Plant bee-friendly flowers, and don't contaminate these flowers, this bee food, with pesticides. So go online and search for flowers that are native to your area and plant them. Plant them in a pot on your doorstep. Plant them in your front yard, in your lawns, in your boulevards. Campaign to have them planted in public gardens, community spaces, meadows. Set aside farmland. We need a beautiful diversity of flowers that blooms over the entire growing season, from spring to fall. We need roadsides seeded in flowers for our bees, but also for migrating butterflies and birds and other wildlife. And we need to think carefully about putting back in cover crops to nourish our soil and nourish our bees. And we need to diversify our farms. We need to plant flowering crop borders and hedge rows to disrupt the agricultural food desert and begin to correct the dysfunctional food system that we've created.
So maybe it seems like a really small counter measure to a big, huge problem -- just go plant flowers -- but when bees have access to good nutrition, we have access to good nutrition through their pollination services. And when bees have access to good nutrition,they're better able to engage their own natural defenses, their healthcare, that they have relied on for millions of years. So the beauty of helping bees this way, for me, is that every one of us needs to behave a little bit more like a bee society, an insect society, where each of our individual actions can contribute to a grand solution, an emergent property, that's much greater than the mere sum of our individual actions. So let the small act of planting flowers and keeping them free of pesticides be the driver of large-scale change.