If your social media is as superficially proactive as mine you would have by now seen numerous posts and memes – shared by that brave 3% of Facebook users – regarding the addition of seven species of bees to the US Fish and Wildlife Services endangered species list. As most people understand, bees are known for their role as pollinators and it would be prudent to investigate what species have been listed and the cause of their decline. This raises fears regarding the security of our food production, not to mention the prospect of bitter tea, bland weetbix and dry, sad pancakes. As it turns out the focus of America’s federal protection are seven species of the yellow-faced bee in the genus Hylaeus – a small, unconventional bee native to the Hawaiian Islands.
Although playing a significant role in the pollination of native flowering plants, the yellow-faced bee is not utilised as an agricultural pollinator and plays no role in the production of our stable, necessary crops including wheat, rice, maize and other flowering fruits.
Contrary to the general image that bees live in large, cooperative hives – these solitary insecta prefer to nest in small cavities of marooned coral rocks or the hollow stems of select coastal fauna. The larvae are only protected by a thin, biological “cellophane” which leaves them vulnerable to predation as invasive ant species can penetrate this membrane and easily access the buffet of plump, defenceless larvae. Additional factors including climate change and additional invasive species play a significant role in their declining population.
The revitalised buzz (sorry) about bee numbers was first ignited by events in 2006-2007 that did see a significant loss of global honey-bee (Apis Mellifera) populations – the most common agricultural pollinator – coined as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Bee populations generally experience losses during wintertime between 15-20%, although these losses are quickly made up through the queens ability to lay more than 1,000 eggs per day. However the increased percentage of population decline through the CCD of 2006-2007 – sometimes as high as 90% – has been linked to climate change, bee susceptibility to viruses such as the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and hive infections of the varroa mite. However new research has uncovered similar large scale colony loss events having been documented as far back as 1868, indicating that there might be a cyclical aspect to this phenomenon.
A class of pesticides known as “neonicotinoids” have made a beeline (sorry again) into the social media spotlight when discussing population demise, and although research from the University of Maryland states that “It’s becoming clearer that some problems are the direct result of pesticides” they “could not find any one pesticide that seemed to be directly connected to CCD.” While not directly connected to any CCD event, it is becoming clear that pesticides may contribute to increased seasonal bee decline.
Thankfully no further CCD events have been recorded since 2010, and analysis of data collected by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations has revealed “that the global population of managed honey-bee hives has increased ~45% during the last half century” and even with the introduction of neonicotinoids, statistics from the U.S Department of Agriculture have shown worldwide honey-bee populations have been stable or increasing for the past 20 years.
In summary social media might be fun, engaging, a great communication tool and the perfect way to remind everyone that you eat nicely arranged food, own a pet or have reproduced – however it is also a hive (still sorry) of unchecked misinformation produced to generate capital by luring in readers with sensationalist headlines or promoting questionable products. Take a second to check a few facts, seek source verifications, check for reliable references and data and be wary of unverified claims or links to online stores. If we can all take steps to filter out the bulls@*t it will make our social media a much more factual place, and would definitely help alleviate my worsening carpel tunnel.