Are Reports of a Global Honeybee Crisis Overblown?

By Rachel Cernansky | May 8, 2009 2:52 pm

honeybee.jpgThe concern over the declining honeybee population may be exaggerated, according to a controversial new study that shows their numbers are actually increasing globally. Alarm over a world pollination crisis is thus unfounded, say the researchers who analyzed Food and Agriculture Organization data and found that commercial domesticated bee hives have increased 45 percent in the past 50 years, to match growing demand for honey among a growing human population [AFP].

The study, published in Current Biology, says, “the declines in the U.S.A., some European countries and the former U.S.S.R. are more than offset by large increases elsewhere, including Canada, Argentina, Spain and especially China.” The study could help disprove a connection between regional declines, which have been attributed partly to parasitic mites and the general mystery known as colony collapse disorder, and a worldwide trend. But even if global bee populations continue to climb, researchers claim that there won’t be enough of them to go around. The real issue is not the honeybee numbers but the increasing work expected of them [CBC], the researchers argue.

In agriculture, bees are primarily used to pollinate “luxury” crops like raspberries, cherries, mangos, and almonds that are now readily available in grocery stores. The researchers point out that the cultivation of such crops has far outpaced growth of the bee population, which could strain the world’s pollination capacity. Says study coauthor Lawrence Harder: “This [crop] growth is not being met by the growth in the numbers of honey bee hive, so wild bees and other pollinators must be taking up some of the slack,” he says. “However, this growth in the cultivation of pollinator-dependent crops is not sustainable in the long run, especially as natural ecosystems are increasingly converted to the production of these crops” [Toronto Star].

Critics of the new study say it is useful to examine the issue of bee supply and demand, but believe the study gives false comfort by focusing on the global increase in bees. Says Rob Currie: “Honeybees are on a global basis experiencing far more serious problems than they have in the past, and a lot of that is related to this parasitic mite and the inability to control it effectively…. We’re having trouble maintaining what we’ve got, and on top of that, the demand is increasing, so to downplay the idea that there is a serious concern there is not something I would agree with,” he said [CBC].

Related Content:
80beats: Honeybee Killer Still at Large
DISCOVER: The Baffling Bee Die-Off Continues
DISCOVER: Beepocalypse

Image: Flickr / Energetic Spirit

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
MORE ABOUT: agriculture, bees, honeybees
  • bigjohn756

    What good is an increase in bees in Canada, Argentina, Spain and China if other heavily populated parts of the world are without? Seems to me like we still have a serious problem to solve here.

  • Nick

    You know, bees are highly intelligent, social animals. Maybe this colony collapse is merely an uprising against bee-slavery. We can’t communicate with them, but they can communicate with others. Maybe they have synergetic hive intelligence. Maybe they’re evolving like Argentine ants, where an from one colony will be accepted by pretty much any other colony – maybe they’re travelling like this and spreading the world about bee oppression and trying to shake off the bourgeoisie ruling class and make a newer, freer world for the bee proletariat!

    Or maybe it’s just overcrowding, the same kind that leads to avian flu and swine flu and all the other problems associated with factory farming.

  • Nick

    Oh, yeah, and the coming advent of microbotics may well obsolete bees – we can have robobees that perfectly pollinate every flower in a crop, not a drop more or less of pollen than is needed.

    Of course, I doubt we want robobees puking up honey the way real bees do.

  • amicus curiae

    Seeing as Argentina is growing a whole lot of GM Soy, and they use heavy chemicals, their honey, as with Chinas is likely to be of dubious quality.Canadas GM Canola and Corn also poses doubt.
    Bayer is being sued over Nictotinamide based chemicals they KNEW would kill bees , along with a whole lot of other beneficial insects and Bats.(see amicus curiae on andI write for FARM WARS blog too:-) Amicus there.
    Sth Africa has an outbreak of AFB that wasn’t found or reported very quickly, so it will be knocking them around this year at the least.
    AFB EFB and CCD all affect native bees, and possibly other species that pollinate. No one has really managed to find that info as they are wild species, and hard to track.
    To Nick; robobees would lack the enzymes that bees roduce and add to the nectar to make honey;-0 so regardless of em spitting it back atya! It would still just be nectar and it would ferment. maybe they could pollinate, but? so do mason and other bees, why? would anyone bother really? like GM Plants, all hype but little real value.

  • katwagner

    Just tonight on Idaho PBS on the program Outdoor Oregon, they addressed the honeybee problem. An Oregon blueberry farmer said honeybee hives don’t help him much as local bees do most of the pollinating chores and why should he pay big money for honeybee hives? So, Mr. Blueberry Farmer took some of his ground out of production and planted native flowers, shrubs and trees. He said by doing that he got the biggest crop of blueberries ever, and the native bumblebees and other bees are thriving in the native vegetation. A few other scientists said yup, that’s what we all need to do: keep more native plants for the native pollinators. We’re asking European honeybees to do way too much work, poor things.

  • Zub Tenroh

    I say bet the futures market for bee polinated fruits. If the planet is going to hell, why not have a comfortable seat to watch it happen?

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