The Decline of the Honeybee: What It Means and What It Means for Humanity

Well, decline or disappearance- you choose the terminology when it comes to the mysterious collapsing disorder causing bee populations to be on the downward spiral. Because, when a honeybee colony “collapses,” the worker bees aren’t found in a massacre somewhere. Rather, the worker bees, the foundation of the colony, simply up and vanish. A colony that is afflicted by “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) is not a hive that has caved in. It’s a colony that still has food, a queen, and even baby bees. It’s simply a colony whose workers have… disappeared. This phenomenon, nicknamed the Bee Apocalypse, has been observed in greater and greater amounts since the early 2000s, and has been the cause of a tremendous amount of concern for scientists and agriculturists alike regarding the decline of the honeybee. But… what exactly is it? And why does it matter for us?

The Importance of the Honeybee

It’s not actually all about the honey. If you don’t eat very much honey in your day-to-day life, don’t be fooled into thinking you’re safe from the ramifications of a Bee Apocalypse. Honeybees are, simply put, one of the most important factors behind global agricultural production. Almost 75% of all plant species directly used for human food have honeybees behind the scenes on some level regarding pollination. Take a moment to let that one soak in. In their native land, honeybees are also crucial to the sustaining of natural habitats. It’s not about the honey. It’s about the pollination. And there aren’t many other animals doing what honeybees are doing for the world’s ecosystem and for humanity’s dinner plate.

The Colony Collapse Disorder

As early as 1869 there have been reported occurrences of bizarre honeybee Raptures. From 1972 to 2006, scientists noted a dramatic decrease in the number of wild honeybees in the United States, and a gradual decline of those kept by beekeepers. By 2013, more than 10 million beehives were lost, which was twice the regular rate, and many due to CCD. And what’s causing this rather alarming meltdown of bee populations? You guessed it. No one knows. Possible factors include:

  • Pesticides
  • Varroa and acarapis mites
  • Fungi
  • Starvation
  • Global climate change
  • Immunodeficiencies
  • Loss of habitat
  • Genetic factors
  • Pathogens

Generally speaking, the scientific community has concluded that no one single factor is the main villain behind the onset of CCD. Instead, scientists surmise that a number of the factors combined are likely the moving force behind colony collapses.

The Impact on Us

In America in particular, honeybees are responsible for pollinating one-third of our crops. These crops include almonds, peaches, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, watermelons, cucumbers, blackberries, and strawberries. If honeybees suffer an even greater demise? Kiss reasonable prices for produce goodbye. Honeybees are actually a commodity when it comes to agriculture, and are often rented for their pollinating services. When honeybees are in decline, agriculture is in decline, and thus the colorful plates set before us at dinnertime become vastly less colorful and indeed significantly less nutritional. Given that honeybees pollinate even more than just the 75% of plant species used for human food, we can expect as well to see a decline in other natural resources that rely on honeybees, and to see an even more dramatic downward turn for the planet as a whole.

But… Sources Disagree

It feels a bit like the global climate change debate. If you search for information, the majority of the headlines scream one way- but there are indeed equally zealous headlines which claim quite the opposite. Most sources will tell you that the honeybee population decline is real, and that we are in a heap of trouble. However, even if their numbers are smaller, the voices of those who disagree are just as fervent. Certain scientists claim that the statistics don’t show that there is an issue with CCD and that, in fact, we’ve recently seen the highest population of honeybees in a long time. Regardless, we can all agree that honeybees are important, just like we can all agree that the stability of the global climate is important. We are left to do our own digging, and to do our own small part in all of the ways that we can to preserve the world we live in which, admittedly, we’re rather lucky to have.