Bee populations are at risk worldwide

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Loss of bees with fatal consequences for humanity

It is not without reason that bees are perceived as particularly hard-working animals. They make an enormous contribution to agricultural production by pollinating the plants. However, the number of bee colonies in modern industrial nations has been declining worldwide for years. Experts sound the alarm.

The President of the European Society for Bee Research, Robin Moritz, yesterday at the start of the "Eurbee 5" congress at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg pointed out the catastrophic consequences that a further decline in the bee population could have. "About two thirds of the food depends on the work of the bees," said Robin Moritz, stressing the importance of hard-working insects. Bee extinction "would fundamentally change the world," the President of the European Society for Bee Research continued. According to the experts, the worldwide declining number of bee colonies is essentially due to the increasing spread of parasites and diseases and the falling number of beekeepers. Around 450 bee experts from 52 countries worldwide are expected at the international "Eurbee 5" congress. The latest findings from parasite and disease research are presented here.

Varroa mite the worst enemy of bees According to the experts, the varroa mite has a massive share in the declining bee population. According to the bees, she is “the worst enemy” of Robin Moritz. The mite penetrates the brood or brood where it can develop and reproduce optimally. Similar to ticks in humans, the mite attaches to the bees and feeds on their blood. The parasite was introduced to Europe from Asia around 30 years ago and has since contributed to the destruction of numerous bee colonies. "The varroa mite is a long-term problem for beekeepers, who regularly have to treat their colonies so that they do not die," said the President of the European Society for Bee Research. Again and again in the past years in autumn there had been a veritable mass extinction of the bees, which was triggered by the stubborn parasites.

Bacterial diseases as a threat to bees Also diseases such as the so-called American foul brood, which affected numerous bee colonies in Bavaria in 2011, are a growing danger for the bee population. Although the spread of the American foulbrood in the domestic bee population could be stopped for the time being, this bacterial bee disease could also reappear in Germany if lightly handling empty honey jars, for example. For the larvae of the bees, infestation of the brood usually ends fatally, so that the bee population as a whole would be severely affected by an increased spread of the pathogens.

Declining number of beekeepers causes falling bee population According to the experts, the declining number of beekeepers also has a significant impact on the bee population. According to Robin Moritz, the number of beekeepers in Germany has dropped from two million to around one million since 1990. Fewer and fewer young people are interested in the beekeeping profession. A problem that has taken on far more drastic proportions in Eastern Europe than in Germany. Because the formerly state-supported honey production in the Eastern Bloc countries is now subject to the rule of the free market economy. For many, the profession of beekeeper is no longer attractive from a purely economic point of view. According to the expert, it would have fatal consequences for the ecological balance if it were not possible to increase or at least maintain the bee population again.

Latest discoveries in bee research will be presented According to the initiators, the "Eurbee" congress is "the most important European platform for bringing together international scientists with an interest in all aspects of honey bee biology." Numerous plenary lectures and symposia not only address the possible threats of the bee population and its consequences, but also fundamental knowledge from the field of bee research, such as the function of the bee brain.

Climate change with an impact on the bee population Another aspect of “Eurbee 5” is the shrinking number of bee species as a result of climate change. According to experts, around 2,000 different species exist worldwide. Many of them live in the tropics and have not been researched to date, explained Robin Moritz. However, the hard-working insects can also be found in mountains, desert regions and cooler, barren landscapes. From Scandinavia to South Africa to the Kapp of Good Hope, their range extends from Australia to the USA. Bees make a significant contribution to pollinating local flora on their flights around the world. Some species are particularly specialized in their environment. For example, they tolerate cold better than others or cope with a small number of flowers.

Bee occurrence at different altitudes investigated Scientists from the Biozentrum of the University of Würzburg have investigated the distribution of different bee species in the Berchtesgaden National Park and have shown possible effects of climate change on the biodiversity of bees. The Würzburg biologists led by Bernhard Hoiß analyzed the spread of the bee species at different altitudes as part of their study. "The national park is ideally suited for this because there are large differences in altitude and thus large climates to be found in a small space," explained Hoiß in a press release by the University of Würzburg at the end of August. The scientists had identified a total of 87 wild bee species at altitudes between 600 and 2,000 meters over the course of a year, 19 of them from the bumblebee genus. According to the researchers, the biodiversity found decreased continuously with increasing altitude (falling temperature). At higher altitudes, specially adapted bees were almost exclusively widespread. "The majority of the species in higher altitudes has only a small distribution area and is adapted to alpine and cool habitats," says the Würzburg researchers. On the lower, significantly warmer areas, “the diversity of species and the number of individuals was about two to three times greater than on the meadows above,” explained Hoiß and colleagues.

Greater specialization at the expense of competitiveness Due to the specialization of bees to the cooler conditions in higher altitudes, some wild bee species have opened up an ecological niche that could be taken away from them in the course of climate change. Because the "evolutionary adaptations to adverse climatic conditions in the mountains come at the expense of competitive strength", the Würzburg biologists report. If the more competitive bees are now moving from warmer climes to the higher regions as a result of climate change, the former specialists would be clearly at a disadvantage. "Should less cold-tolerant species with similar demands in the habitat of the High mountain specialists penetrate ”, the“ reduced competitive strength could doom the specialists, ”explained Hoiß. The result would be a decline in species diversity in the currently more than 500 different wild bee species in Germany. So far, however, it is unclear what effects this lower biodiversity could have on plants in alpine and cooler regions such as Scandinavia.

What is certain is that the general decline in the bee population if the trend continues would have a significant impact on society as a whole. The population's food would be endangered in the long term and massive damage would occur at the economic level. Special protection of the bee population and efforts to expand the bee population therefore appear to be urgently needed. (fp)

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