Bees are dying in masses and there is no one to replace them.
The problem is not the lack of honey: honey bees are a symbol of the global extinction of insects. We explain the reasons and the search for a solution to the problem.
The problem of the extinction of bees has reached Russia: in 2019, Russian beekeepers will collect less honey than in the past, as experts predict. The reason is obvious: this year the number of bee families, according to official estimates alone, has decreased by 40 thousand, which is about one and a half billion insects. Unofficial figures can be much higher, says the Institute of Biochemistry and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences from Ufa. In Russia, about 100 thousand tons of honey are produced on average. According to expert estimates, the losses will make up one-fifth of this amount. Bees’ extinction threatens not only to increase the price of honey collected in Russia: more falsified products will surely appear in the market.
Why bee extinction is a big problem?
In Germany, the problem of bee extinction is also relevant, but it is not about reducing the number of honey bees. After the population of domestic bees decreased sharply in the 90s after the unification of Germany, their number has been growing in recent years. The number of beekeepers is also growing – there are more beekeepers than in all the last thirty years. On average, for each beehive owner, and there are almost a million of them in Germany, there are about seven bee families, each of which has five to forty thousand insects.
Nevertheless, Germany is no less concerned than Russia about the problem of bees’ extinction, not out of fear of losing the honey crop, but because bees perform the most important function for agriculture and the whole ecosystem: pollination of flowering plants. In Europe, up to 80 percent of commercial plantations depend on the services of furry insects, according to biologists. No bees, no harvest, it’s simple.
Wild bees are dying out in the world. And in general, insects
It is not only honey bees that play an important role. Although it is numerous species in the bee genus, but only one of almost 25 thousand species in the world. Only in Germany, there are more than 560 species: these are wild bees, most of them do not produce honey.
But if the number of honey bees around the world remains more or less stable (somewhere decreasing, somewhere increasing), the number of wild bees dramatically decreases almost everywhere. When experts talk about bee extinction, they mean wild bees. The extinction has affected all insects: scientists estimate that the mass of insects in the world has decreased by 75 percent since 1990. In Germany, more than half of all wild bee species are listed in the Red Book, and their survival is in danger. One in three species will disappear completely in the next quarter-century, biologists predict.
It is believed that the causes of bee extinction have not been sufficiently studied. As an example, a phenomenon was discovered in 2006, when honey bees in the U.S. began to leave hives on a massive scale and did not return. This phenomenon was called “bee family destruction syndrome” and has been observed regularly since then.
It is well known that several factors were the cause of this phenomenon. It seems that bees suffer most from intensive agriculture with pesticides. Experts in Russia consider the use of chemicals for weed control to be the main reason for the mass extinction of honey bees this year. The second reason related to agriculture is the increase in monocultures and, in a broader sense, a decrease in biodiversity. Some species of bees that collect nectar or pollen only from certain flowers find themselves without their usual food. Roads are paved and forestry is not interested in leaving fallen trees in the forest. As a result, insects have nowhere to hide and multiply.
Another problem, especially for honey bees, is the varroa mites, which have spread from China all over the world and against which bees are often powerless.
How to save bees: “green” stops and mobile apps
The problem of bee extinction has been discussed more and more actively in the last few years. The most logical step in the fight for their survival is to restrict the use of pesticides. Since 2018, the European Union has completely banned the use of three types of neonicotinoids – insecticides, which are designed to destroy aphids and other pests. The problem is that these pesticides attract and cause serious harm to bees as well: they, for example, stop orienting themselves in space. But there are few prohibitions, critics say; it is necessary to rethink the principles of agriculture.
The bee topic in Germany has brought together experts in biology, officials, large corporations, and ordinary citizens. It is believed that an example of how to act will be the petition “Save the bees”, which was signed in Bavaria by 1.75 million people (in this land only 13 million people). The people’s initiative, which formed the basis of the petition, became law in July 2019. The new law requires more farms that grow organic food, more wild meadows, and fewer pesticides – in protected areas their use is now banned. The next federal state to discuss such an initiative is Baden-Württemberg. A similar petition was officially launched this year in the entire European Union.
There are enough ideas to give insects the space they need. Scientists at the University of Oldenburg are trying to create such meadows for cows to preserve their nutritional properties, but to sow so many flowering plants that they can live on more insects than now.
Many cities in Germany take their inspiration from the Dutch city of Utrecht, where hundreds of “green islets” have been broken up on rooftops at public transport stops.
Love for furry insects is also found in unexpected places: free seed bags for plants that love wild bees, regularly distributed by large German grocery store chains. And the German Ministry of Agriculture has launched a special “bee” mobile application for smartphones, which tells how ordinary residents can help insects survive in the city – for example, less often to mow grass and create more places in their gardens, suitable for their homes.
But before the trend changes, the total biomass of insects is decreasing in the world by 2.5 percent – annually.