Bees represent a critical part of the American agriculture industry, as the busy insects help pollinate billions of dollars’ worth of crops every year. However, scientists and farmers have noticed a decline of bee colonies since 2005. Research pointed to global warming, diseases and habitat loss as potential causes, but another culprit may doom wild bees and bumblebees.
A recent NPR articlereferences two studies published in April 2015 in the journal Nature that expound on the idea that overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides in cash crops could make the bees addicted to the nicotine-based substance. One study found that bees migrated towards the nicotine-laced plants while completely ignoring the sugary plants that bees normally prefer. Eventually, this type of insecticide builds up in the pollinators, and the neonicotinoid kills the insects that return to laced plants over and over.
Tobacco-based insecticides are popular because farmers only have to spray the seeds of the plants, which causes the crops grow with nicotine inside them. The effects last throughout the life of the plant, which makes controlling pests easier. The European Union and Canada have looked into limiting the use of these pesticides, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not plan to approve any new neonicotinoids for use on crops.
All is not lost. Wild bees and bumblebees remain the most affected species. Honeybees, may be less affected by symptoms related to neonicotinoid pesticides. But as much as one-third of American crops rely on pollinators, such as bees, to preserve a robust agricultural industry. If even a small percentage of the bees responsible for pollinating crops die, the food loss in the United States alone could be disastrous. The Sierra Club, the American Beekeeping Federation and the American Honey Producers Association started campaigning against neonicotinoids as early as 2010.
There are a number of possible solutions to the problem, if we are open-minded enough to embrace them. Farmers can take the initiative and stop using nicotine-based pesticides in crops. Congress can also get involved by limiting the use of neonicotinoids. And there’s a lot of work yet to do to learn about other factors that are affecting the honeybee situation, including colony collapse disorder and climate change. The conservation of all bees, wild and domestic, need to be a top priority to protect the future – for humans as well as bees.
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