Ignoring dying bees will impact humans

By Julia Rauchfuss COLUMNIST
On February 22, 2012

Best known for prompting shrieks and swatting of air, bees rarely receive proper recognition for their contributions to humankind. But now that they are disappearing by the thousands, it will be up to humans to ensure their survival.

Over the past five years, about 30 percent of the yearly captive honeybee population has died every winter, according to CNN, and about 10 percent of bees simply vanish. While recent reports suggest that this may not cause significant damage to the U.S. agriculture industry due to better farming technologies, preservation of the species still deserves immediate attention.

Humans have always shared a close partnership with honeybees but if care is not taken soon human ignorance could twist this simple, symbiotic relationship into a form of parasitism. Bees are far more beneficial to humans than they are dangerous.

Honeybees are pollinators, and play a crucial role in the production of seeds, which are contained in the fruits, vegetables and grains that line grocery store shelves.

Though some crops such as wheat are pollinated by the wind, honeybees are responsible for the 90 percent of all commercial pollination, according to an article in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology.

According to researchers, the shrinking honeybee population is the result of colony collapse disorder, the sudden and unexplained disappearance of all the worker bees in a hive. Agricultural insecticides are a prime suspect, as beekeeper accounts suggest certain insecticides negatively affect bees, according to an article in Issues in Science and Technology. However, the Environmental Protection Agency requires more scientific data to take products off the market.

The phenomenon also puts another population at risk.

Almuhanad Melhim, a research associate at the University of Guelph in Canada, told Canada Business magazine that the conversation is "about the disappearing of beekeepers more than … (the disappearing) of honeybees." The number of managed honeybee colonies is currently one-third of what it was when the beekeeping industry reached its peak in 1947 at 5.9 million colonies, according to Canada Business, yet the number of crops that require animal pollination have increased by 300 percent over the past 50 years.

The beekeeping industry is desperate for new recruits and interested USF students are encouraged to attend beekeeping lectures at USF's Botanical Gardens on the third Saturday of every month. Kim Hutton, program coordinator for the gardens, said ultimately the bee's survival "is a matter of being aware of the environment. We can't survive without plants and they can't survive without bees to pollinate them."

USF students should take advantage of this great opportunity to learn about ways to preserve some of nature's hardest workers. People have much more to learn from bees about patience, synergy and the balance of nature.

Julia Rauchfuss is a freshman majoring in biomedical science.

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