#Time4TheTalk: The Bee Crisis

According to the Reuters news agency, 30 percent of American bee hives and 20% in some European countries have been affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)1, a mysterious disorder where there is a low number of adult honey-bees, if any, present in the bee hive with a live queen. While this phenomenon does not currently have a recognizable underlying cause, reports of CCD have been dating back to as early as October 2006 with some beekeepers reporting losses of 30-90 percent of their bee hives. Though colony losses are expected during winter weather, the magnitude of loss suffered by some beekeepers was highly unusual.

Colony collapse is significant because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by bees. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and others are in the process of carrying out research to discover the cause(s) of CCD and develop ways for beekeepers to respond to the problem. Currently, the primary underlying causes identified for CCD are use of pesticides, air pollution, declines in flowering plants, and diseases spread as a result of mites and other parasites. As mentioned in the Ashwellthorpe and Fundenhall Communities article on bees, “among the greatest problems is the varroa mite, a bloodsucking parasite that attacks young and adult honeybees. Attacked bees often have deformed wings and abdomens and a shortened life span.” Researchers are meeting some mite-control success by increasing the ventilation of managed bee colonies. 2                                                                                                                                                          

A recent study also suggests that the decline of honeybees seen in many countries may be caused by reduced plant diversity. The study exposes a possible link between the diversity of bee diets and the strength of their immune systems. The proliferation of large areas of monoculture consequently has a major impact on plant diversity. For instance, as stated in the article, "Bee decline linked to falling biodiversity“, "in the US, the problem may have been compounded by loss of genetic diversity among the bees themselves. In the UK, where farmers are already rewarded financially for implementing wildlife-friendly measures, there is some scope for turning the trend and giving some diversity back to the foraging bees." The article further states that "a much greater awareness is needed among land managers such as farmers about managing hedgerows in a more sympathetic way, as hedgerows are a much neglected resource." Incidentally, "the French government has just announced a project to sow nectar-bearing flowers by roadsides in an attempt to stem honeybee decline.” 3

In addition, another study being carried out in Colorado has found that the decline in bee numbers may be due to a “climate-driven mismatch between the times when flowers open and when bees emerge from hibernation."4

Why are bees so important?

According to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), managed honey-bees are the most economically important pollinators in the world. As stated in the recent U.N. report, of the 100 crops that provide 90% of the world's food, over 70 of the crops are pollinated by bees. In the U.S. alone, the economic contribution of honey-bees is valued at over $15 billion. In addition, the estimated value of honey-bees to crop pollination is more than $2 billion in Canada and represents £440 million to the British economy. Bees and other pollinators such as butterflies, beetles, and birds are estimated to do work worth $212.3 billion (€153 billion) a year to the human economy -- about 9.5 percent of the total value of human food production. As stated in "The Bee Project", “commercial beehives pollinate over a third of America's crops, and that web of nourishment encompasses everything from fruits like peaches, apples, cherries, strawberries and more, to nuts like California almonds, 90 percent of which are helped along by the honeybees. Without this annual pollination, you could conceivably kiss those crops goodbye, to say nothing of the honey-bees produce or the flowers they also fertilize.” 5

The declines in managed bee colonies, seen increasingly in Europe and the US in the past decade, are also now being observed in China and Japan and there are the first signs of African collapses from Egypt, the U.N. report states. The authors of the report, who include some of the world's leading honey-bee experts, issue a stark warning about the disappearance of bees, which are increasingly important as crop pollinators around the globe. Without profound changes to the way human beings manage the planet, they say, declines in pollinators needed to feed a growing global population are likely to continue.

What can you do?

There are many actions you can take to protect the honey-bees while in turn also protecting agriculture and crops:

• Do not use pesticides indiscriminately, especially mid-day when honey-bees are most likely out foraging for nectar.

• Plant and encourage the planting of good nectar sources such as red clover, foxglove, bee balm, and joe-pye weed. To find out more on common nectar and pollen-rich plants as well as links to find native planting guides for your region, see the Bee-Friendly Gardening brochure.

• Plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden or yard.

• Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know.

• US residents can urge the Department of Agriculture to act now to save the bees.

• Build bee roads as done in the UK.

• For more information, be sure to check out 12 ways to help native bees and Garden bee station.

See also:

• To learn more about the proliferation of pesticides, visit The Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN North America or PANNA) which works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.

• To learn more about the collapse of the world’s honey-bee colonies, read the United Nations Environment Program study which presents scientific data and analysis regarding bee decline, including wild and controlled bee populations.

• To learn more about the “dire global bee crisis through the eyes of biodynamic beekeepers, scientists, farmers, and philosophers”, check out the documentary QUEEN OF THE SUN: What Are the Bees Telling Us.

What bees pollinate6






Alfalfa Hay



Alfalfa Seed



Cotton Lint



Cotton Seed



Legume Seed












Sugar Beets










Macadamia Nuts

























Who are the pollinators? Bees (including bumble bee, sweat bee, carpenter bees, mason bees), butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, birds such as the hummingbirds and white-winged doves and bats, in the southwest of the US where they feed on agave and cactus.