Environmental Hazards, Nature, Science

Honey Bee Crisis Threatens Crops, Plants, Food Supply

Honey bees arrive at a hive entrance. Bees are approaching a critical population size called the Allee Effect.
Honey bees arrive at a hive entrance. Bees are approaching a critical population size called the Allee Effect. Photo: Björn Appel | Wikimedia.

A new study on the collapse of beehive colonies proposes a new culprit: the Allee Effect. The collapse of numerous beehives around the world has led to a crisis in agriculture and other sectors. Bees are essential to the pollination of crops and other plants. Their absence would lead to critical food shortages. Scientists have become concerned about the issue.

Colony collapse disorder has been attributed to a number of factors, such as pollution, parasites, viruses, fungi, and compromised nutrition. As those factors continue to be investigated as potential causes, two researchers from Idaho have discovered another important factor: critical population size.

The hive life of bees is so intertwined that should a hive suffer a significant loss of workers the whole community collapses. The queen cannot produce enough eggs to keep the colony functioning, and there aren’t enough workers to tend the eggs find food. The result is hive collapse, where bees either die off or leave to find a new home.

That’s where the Allee Effect comes in, named for an ecologist working in the 1930s who suggested that there could come a point for any species where it reaches a critical population size.

At this size, the population is too small or too spread out to survive. Individuals cannot mate, group predators cannot hunt, and the loss of that species becomes inevitable. This is what seems to be happening to bees. When an infection or some other problem hits a hive, bees are rapidly affected and workers die, the hive drops below its critical population.

Researchers suggest that steps be taken to support beehive populations by making sure they have access to food and aren’t impacted by pesticides. Keeping bees safe from environmental threats could go a long way towards keeping their hives from collapsing.

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