“Save the bees” is and has always been more than a catchy campaign slogan. For a few years now, we’ve been direly warned by scientists near and far about the dangers of a world without bees, or without enough of them. Bees are vital for our agriculture, after all! Fear and decline in bee populations around the world have had millions, nay billions, of people on the edge of their seats wanting for an opportunity to do more. Thanks to yet another scientific advancement in the world, we’re finally doing it. We’re finally saving the bees!
The population of wild bees and other pollination-powerhouses has been declining for some years now, and it’s not a regional problem. An assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has revealed that this decline in population has now become a global problem. The problem has gotten so severe that the UN is towing the line of needing to declare a full-scale threat to global food supplies. The solution, they propose, is protecting the populations of critters that are responsible for pollinating our crops. Some of those crops are pollinator-dependent and can’t produce enough quantity of crops, or can’t produce crops that are worthwhile and healthy without having the help of bees and other pollinating animals and bugs. These dependent crops include “nearly all your fruits and many of your vegetables”, says Simon Potts from IPBES. Such examples are apples, mangoes, and even cocoa beans. No cocoa means no chocolate.
A UN group charged with monitoring and assessing climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has determined that 9% of the European bee and butterfly population is currently under threat of extinction, as up to 40% of the respective populations has already died off. There are ways that this can be rectified, the obvious one being a greater force towards more sustainable living. But beyond eco-harmful lifestyles, there are other things that are major culprits behind the decline of bee and butterfly populations. Namely, the use of pesticides.
The pesticides that we’ve used for decades on both an industrial and a personal scale have been cutting bee populations way back because of the harm they cause to the bugs, which ultimately resulted in an inability to pollinate or reproduce.. Lucky for us, and for the bees, scientists have gone to work, and they’ve discovered that there was a certain kind of pesticide that didn’t harm bees. In fact, the bees were completely resistant to it! This pesticide is called tau-fluvalinate, and the brilliant minds behind its discovery published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal for the world to see.
The hope with this new discovery of a harmless pesticide is that it will still work to repel insects that cause damage to crops, such as mites and other pests, but don’t cause any harm to insects that seek to only pollinate the plants. One of the authors of the study, Professor Ke Dong, put it like this: “For the first time, we are showing that unique structural features in bee sodium channels interfere with the binding of tau-fluvalinate to bumble bee sodium channels.” In other words, the pesticide will still be absorbed into the body of the bee, but they won’t stick around and cause damage.
Unfortunately, it will still be a while before the pesticide will be released to the market widespread. Scientists need to make sure that they’re 100% certain their pesticide won’t cause any further harm to the populations of pollinating insects, mainly the bees, and that there will be no harmful circumstances that they didn’t anticipate. It’s for everybody’s sake that they take their time.
Lucky for the bees, Professor Ke Dong and his research team aren’t the only ones helping to tackle the problem of diminishing bee populations. The Cheerios brand recently purchased and created a 3,300-acre bee habitat so that our little pollinating friends may have a place to thrive and repopulate. Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, a classic rock band, has a foundation in his name that advocates for environmental protection and preservation, and they’ve helped to protect bee populations as well.
We’re not hopeless, but we’re not out of the woods yet either. Our planet still needs us, and right now, our bees need us the most. If you want to help on your own, the best thing you can do is plant flowers where you can. Flowers help keep bee populations up and help the earth through pollination. They’re helping to save the bees; will you join them?