Archive for December, 2013

Why are bees disappearing?

Bumble BeeI have been following stories bee population declines lately. I’m interested in these stories because the crop protection tools mentioned in these stories are things I sometimes use. I like to know as much as I can about these techniques so I can feel I am using them most effectively.

I must admit that most of the stories I see come to me through Facebook. It is an easy tool to organize interests and have stories show up that may interest you. I do find it mildly amusing and somewhat disturbing that many people seem to make judgments on stores without reading or even, if they do read, looking further into the source of the information they are reading, but that is pretty common on that social media platform.

I find it more disturbing that many people seem to know little about basic science, how it works, how ideas are looked at, analyzed and how to even tell if a study is even designed well. One of the basic rules I learned in science is that “correlation does not necessarily mean causation”. Take a look at the bee population decline issue. Here is the reasoning I see highlighted all over the internet: Bees are insects, pesticides kill insects, one kind of pesticide came out the same time the bees started to decline, therefore these pesticides are causing the bees to die. Correlation = Causation. Things are rarely so black and white. In a complex system as nature, lines are never that straight. Most of Europe banned those pesticides, except for England where conservationists went out and planted wildflowers. The bumblebee population that was in terrible decline started to rapidly bounce back (link to story here).

Bees are in decline for a number of reasons. I’m not saying that the jury is not still out on the role those certain pesticides may be playing, but jumping to a conclusion without looking at all the factors does not solve an issue. Saying the problem is pesticides, spending a lot of time, effort, money, etc. on that one factor and ignoring the rest does nothing to solve the problem. Most of the studies being done do not show that the pesticides are the problem but still the issue persists, mainly because the “social media” crazy is keeping it alive.

Habitat destruction is a big problem and that can’t all be pinned on the back of farming alone. Cropping patterns are changing and that is putting a larger demand on the need for bees. Also, all this moving the bees around long distances can’t be good for them either. Many of the wild plants that they may use in a natural diet, farmers destroy because many of those plants harbor diseases and pests that can transmit those diseases to their crops. More people require more land for homes and jobs, and if you go around your neighborhood you will see a different type of monoculture.

I think the problem with bees is a sign that says we all need to take a look at how we are treating our natural world. We are all in this together, and all of our choices matter. Pointing fingers at each other solves nothing.