The Impact Of Climate Change On Bees
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The impact of bees in daily life- from our crops to our gardens- is astonishing. It is estimated that bees produce over 10 billion dollars’ worth of agricultural crops annually in the United States. Bees have this key role in agriculture because of pollination, a process where bees move pollen (a powdery substance) between flowers to allow for plant reproduction. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), over 80% of all crops, especially fruits and vegetables, depend on pollination in order for their output to keep up with public demand. If bee populations were to decrease in size, the cost of our food would increase and its quantity would diminish. In addition, bees create honey, a crop which generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, by transporting nectar from flowers to honeycombs. Beyond our food needs, these small insects are incredibly important in overall ecosystem health. For example, pollination allows for widespread floral growth, leading to beautiful gardens and expansive habitats for animals. Almost all parts of nature- from tropical forests, to grassy meadows, to industrial-scale crop fields- depend on the symbiotic relationship between bees and flowers created by pollination (flowers give bees food while bees allow flowers to reproduce).
Unfortunately, bee populations have recently been declining by as much as 30% percent per year. There were twice as many honeybee colonies in 1959 as there are today. This decrease in population, caused by many of the effects climate change, will cause humans to lack all benefits from this species that we easily take for granted.
Climate change is causing temperature shifts which are leaving bees unable to pollinate in time. Bees are severely vulnerable to extreme weather and climate change has caused flowers to emerge and bloom earlier. Because bees are unable to adapt to the changing climate, they are unable to pollinate flowers and, thus, do not obtain nectar for their hives to use during the harsh winter months. Changing temperatures have also reduced the size of their wild range by approximately five miles each year instead of shifting it northward for cooler temperatures like many other animals, which causes bees to further miss out on pollination. Many of these factors have combined to stimulate the spread of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon where the many worker bees in a colony disappear. This is a massive threat to bee populations. Research from the Environment Protection Agency shows that CCD is linked to changes in bee habitats and malnutrition, both of which are indirectly caused by climate change. In addition, climate change allows invasive species to take over bee hive, spoil stored food, and disrupt many processes within these hives, causing a further decline in bee populations.
The rising levels of carbon dioxide (linked with climate change and other previously discussed issues) are also wreaking havoc among bee populations. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the amount of protein found in pollen. Elevated quantities of carbon dioxide cause the protein found in pollen to become diluted and unhealthy for bees. This abundance of carbon dioxide plays a key role in the decline in quantity and health of the bee population. Carbon dioxide is causing various problems among bees which contribute to declining populations.
Luckily, there are ways you can ease the effects of this crisis. If there's outdoor space available to you, even for part of the year, try growing plants such as tomato, lavender, and rosemary to provide bees with the necessary pollen. Avoid using pesticides and other chemicals on your plants that cause CCD. Donate to or volunteer for the Pollinator Partnership, an organization which protects pollinators through research and conservation efforts. Buy locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables to support beekeepers in your area who are working to keep the bee population alive. You can even become a beekeeper! The American Beekeeping Federation can help you get started. No matter how much time and effort you have available to give, there is always something you can do to help the bees!