In 2007, the United States was presented with a frightening fact: managed honey bee populations were dying off at an alarming rate, raising the specter of a future compromised by crop failures and food shortages. The headlines have faded, but the crisis endures, with honey bee colonies failing at an average rate of 29% each year since 2006. Last year was one of the worst years on record, with a die-off of 38%. In fact, bee loss is a worldwide problem and is not limited to honey bees.
Of the world’s quarter of a million flower and seed-producing plant species, between 78% and 94% require pollinators to move pollen, which contain male sex cells, to female receptors for fertilization. Of these pollinators — bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, and other animals — bees are the most important and critical to plant diversity and ecological stability. They pollinate approximately 30% of the food we eat. Here are 20 crops that would be most affected if bees disappeared.
It is critical that we learn the causes of bee loss and take action to slow bee population decline and assure future pollinator health. Since the first major bee die-offs came to light during the winter of 2006-2007, much has been done to understand the phenomenon. The honey bee loss, dubbed colony collapse disorder, and the decline in other bee populations is now known to be caused by a variety of factors, including pesticide use, loss of habitat, various parasites and vectors, climate change, and more. 24/7 Tempo has reviewed different sources to list the greatest threat to U.S. bee populations.
Many of the contributing factors are associated with industrial agriculture, a relatively new paradigm whereby small, diverse farms were replaced, largely beginning in the 1970s, with large scale, single-crop agricultural operations, known as monocultures. These immense farms decrease bee habitat, reduce ecological diversity, and employ huge amounts of pesticides, all of which are detrimental to bee survival. And because wild bees cannot pollinate such vast industrial farms, farmers have come to rely on managed honey bee populations, reducing bee diversity.
With the understanding of the role that current agricultural practices play in the decline of bees, farmers are looking for new ways to maintain healthy bee populations, by, for example, creating “islands” of good, diversely planted, bee habitat within the farm confines. Here are some things everyday people can do to help honey bees and pollinators.
There is also a movement toward ecological farming, which relies on organic farming methods and the elimination of pesticides.