What killed the bees?


Don’t be saying you’re not interested in what has caused the huge die-off of the bee population. A third of the total human diet depends on the critters.

Now, then: Discover Magazine reports we now know what has caused a third of all commercial honeybees to die: Commercial bee agriculture. Bee inbreeding, basically. They once were a hardy sort, with the queen adapting to the variety of male drones with which she would breed.

All that began to change in the early 20th century, when farms and orchards started enlisting honeybees to pollinate their crops. Bees that were adapted to harvesting pollen from a variety of plants suddenly spent a month or more at a time surrounded by nothing but almond or apple trees. Farmers eager to increase their crop yields turned to commercial beekeepers, who offered up massive wooden hives stocked with queen bees genetically selected to produce colonies of good pollinators. These breeding practices slashed the genetic variety that helps any species survive infections, chemicals, and other unforeseen threats.

Ironically, the cause turns out to be the very sort of person who raised the alarm in the first place.

Bee experts are trying to adopt practices that lead bees to lead a more natural life. “Bees have been doing this for 80 million years,” one says. “All we have to do is get out of their way.”