Thursday, March 25, 2010

After the bees are gone

Marcelo Aizen and Lawrence Harder wrote an editorial today in the New York Times on the death and disappearance of bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder has spread across North America and Europe in the past five years. IF the bees are to disappear, this has serious implications for our plants.

Overall, about one-third of our worldwide agricultural production depends to some extent on bee pollination, but less than 10 percent of the 100 most productive crop species depend entirely on it. If pollinators were to vanish, it would reduce total food production by only about 6 percent.

The authors discuss how this wouldn’t mean the end of human existence, but if we want to continue eating foods like apples and avocados, we need to understand that bees and other pollinators can’t keep up with the current growth in production of these foods.

The reason is that fruit and seed crops that are most dependent on pollinators yield relatively little food per acre, and therefore take up an inordinate, and increasing, amount of land. The fraction of agriculture dependent on pollination has increased by 300% in half a century.

The paradox is that our demand for these foods endangers the wild bees that help make their cultivation possible. The expansion of farmland destroys wild bees’ nesting sites and also wipes out the wildflowers that the bees depend on when food crops aren’t in blossom.

Learn more about recent findings in the article, Too-Busy Bees.

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