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Version: 2.0
(October 6, 2006)

The Fall of the Bee

Over the past 50 years, the USA and Europe have experienced a rapid decline in bee populations. Wild native bees on the continental U.S. are nearly extinct, while domestic bee numbers have decreased by 25% in the past fifteen years alone. Europe is experiencing far more dramatic figures. The Guardian recently reported that bee populations in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have decreased 80% in the past 25 years(1).

Many factors have contributed to this decline. Among them is the intense use of synthetic pesticides, which greatly compromises biodiversity across the board. Bees are not only effected by pesticides individually, but carry traces of the chemicals back into the hive, poisoning their colonies. The destruction of habitat also plays a significant role; bees most often nest in tree hollows or other such cavities and feed on nectar supplied by flowering plants. The spatial rearrangement of these habitats alone threatens a bee's survival. A recent British study reported that "Bumblebees, which see the world in a version of colour that includes ultraviolet wavelengths, are thought to navigate by spotting landmarks on the horizon, so terrain which is essentially flat or cluttered with buildings may confuse them. But as their natural habitats are fragmented by building projects and intensive farming, bees are being forced to navigate landscapes they are less familiar with(2)."

During the past decade, bees have also been hit hard by disease, specifically those spread by mites. Mites hamper a bee's development and function, introducing viruses into the bees' bodies through small incisions through which they feed. The epidemic is so bad that many beekeepers have resorted to spraying their bees with mite-specific insecticide. Initially, applications of such insecticides are successful but, over only a few generations, insecticide-resistant mites emerge and the problem is worse than before.

The absence of bees has far-reaching consequences. Researchers fear that a shortage of bees could both compromise natural ecosystems and food production. The National Geographic estimates that bee pollination is key to the production of 15 to 30% of food in the U.S. Other sources quote that bees pollinate up to 70% of plant life. There are several steps, however, that can be taken to ensure the bee's survival.

Plant a bee-friendly garden. Gardeners and bees share many favorites, including foxgloves, cosmos, snapdragons, mints, lupines, clover, fruit trees, and berries. Bee's also need a safe place to nest, removed from hazards like pesticides and predators. For more information about creating your own bee garden, visit What's the Buzz on Planting a Bee Garden

Limit or eliminate your use of pesticides. If this is unmanageable, try to use only pesticides that are safe for bees and other pollinators. However, many pesticides kill off species that hold pests in check, such as spiders, Praying Mantises, and ladybugs. By using pesticides, you may be increasing your own chemical dependence.

Advocate for the protection and restoration of wild places. Get involved with your town's planning board and land trust to promote the protection of undeveloped land, especially forests and shrub land.

Keep bees. Keeping bees is not as frightening as one might presume. Bees rarely sting unless agitated by rapid movement. Furthermore, proper precautions such as "smoking" the bees to sedate them and wearing appropriate protective gear can eliminate most of the risk.. Information about how to get started can be found at Honey Bees and Beekeeping

1) Sample, Ian. "Study Reveals Extent of Insect's Homing Ability" The Guardian 26 July, 2006.

2) Ibid.