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What Would Happen if All the Bees Died Tomorrow?

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of pollinators in our ecosystem.

Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony collapse disorder is an abnormal phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear, leaving behind a queen, plenty of food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder has been threatening bees for a while, and they need everyone to help them out. There have been several incidents of acute poisoning of honey bees covered in the popular media in recent years, but sometimes these incidents are mistakenly associated with CCD.

Likelihood of bees dying off ?

Why CCD is happening ?

Dead bees don't necessarily mean CCD

Could human survive without bees ?

Our food suppy changes without bees ?

What’s the likelihood of bees dying off?

“Pollinators could be very negatively affected by depressed regulations to keep our waters and other natural areas free from pollution,” says Elina L. Niño, who runs a bee research lab at UC Davis, in California, adding that the work the EPA does to test and regulate pesticides is vital to keeping bees alive and productive. Beckham adds, “My opinion is that the current administration and GOP do not have the best interests of the environment or pollinators in mind, and they are proposing policy that will negatively impact both.”

Could humans survive without bees?

While from a calorie perspective our food system would be secure, from a diversity standpoint, things would be bleak. Much of our produce, like almonds, peaches, plums, apples and cherries, rely on bee-assisted pollination. In fact, “One analysis of the global crop market found that pollinators are essential or highly, moderately, or slightly necessary for 91 crops consumed by humans,” Niño says. “We would definitely lose many of the foods that make our diets vibrant, healthy, and nutritious.”

Why CCD is happening?

CCD is believed to be complex and a result of multiple factors. One study evaluated 61 factors, and found that no single stressor stood out as the primary cause of CCD. However, colonies affected by CCD had more pathogens and more types of pathogens than colonies without CCD. Pathogens are disease-causing organisms.

There have been many theories about the cause of CCD, but the researchers who are leading the effort to find out why are now focused on these factors:

  • Increased losses due to the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honey bees).
  • New or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema.
  • Pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control.
  • Stress bees experience due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services.
  • Changes to the habitat where bees forage.
  • Inadequate forage/poor nutrition.
  • Potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of factors identified above.

How would our food supply change without bees?

Plants can be pollinated by hand (or, in the future, by drone). Last year, China’s Hanyuan county showed humans hand-pollinating pears, most likely in response to massive reductions in China’s bee population. But hiring humans is pricey. “MIT graduates calculated that the cost of hand-pollinating a hectare (about two acres) of apples would be approximately $5,715-$7,135. This compared to a recommendation of one two-story colony per acre at a high rental price of $45 per colony and $90 a hectare carries a much heftier price tag,” Niño says.

Dead Bees don’t Necessarily Mean CCD

Certain pesticides are harmful to bees. That’s why we require instructions for protecting bees on the labels of pesticides that are known to be particularly harmful to bees. This is one of many reasons why everyone must read and follow pesticide label instructions. When most or all of the bees in a hive are killed by overexposure to a pesticide, we call that a beekill incident resulting from acute pesticide poisoning. But acute pesticide poisoning of a hive is very different from CCD and is almost always avoidable. With CCD, there are very few if any dead bees near the hive. Piles of dead bees are an indication that the incident is not colony collapse disorder. Indeed, heavily diseased colonies can also exhibit large numbers of dead bees near the hive.