Honeybees Are Living Half as Long as They Were 50 Years Ago, Study Finds
Entomologists at the University of Maryland discovered why honeybee lifespans are on the decline. Find out why getting to the bottom of the issue is crucial.
There are already several species of bees listed as endangered. Others, like the American bumblebee, are on the verge. This week, a new study conducted by entomologists at the University of Maryland found honeybees are in trouble, too.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers found individual honeybees kept in controlled, laboratory environments were only living two weeks—50% shorter lifespans than 50 years ago in the 1970s when the average was one month.
The Lifespan of Honeybees—and Why It's Declining
Beekeepers in the United States have reported high loss rates of honeybees over the past 10 years, resulting in reduced honey production. This sparked researchers to look into the matter.
While there are many reasons for the decline in populations—including "environmental stressors, diseases, parasites, pesticide exposure, and nutrition"—this study in particular is the first to show a decline independent of environmental stressors. Instead, it could be due to genetics.
"We're isolating bees from the colony life just before they emerge as adults, so whatever is reducing their lifespan is happening before that point," said Anthony Nearman, a PhD student and lead study author in a press release. "This introduces the idea of a genetic component. If this hypothesis is right, it also points to a possible solution. If we can isolate some genetic factors, then maybe we can breed for longer-lived honeybees."
The Importance of Honeybees
Getting to the bottom of the issue and helping honeybees survive longer is crucial. While they produce numerous important products (including honey and beeswax), they're also a prime pollinator.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "honeybees are like flying dollar bills buzzing over U.S. crops," with the bee pollination accounting for "$15 billion in added crop value." In fact, one-third of the food eaten by Americans—including apples, melons, almonds, and broccoli—relies on honeybee pollination. No big deal.
Next Steps in Solving the Problem
The study researchers say the next step in figuring out how to help lengthen the lifespan of honeybees is comparing lifespan trends across both the U.S. and other countries. "If they find differences in longevity, they can isolate and compare potential contributing factors such as genetics, pesticide use, and presence of viruses in the local bee stocks," reads the press release.
You can also make some changes to save the bees in your own backyard. Plant pollinator flowers for bees in your garden, avoid using neonicotinoids (a class of pesticides killing bees), or create a bee bath during the hot summer months. Also, support your local beekeepers and buy organic produce whenever possible. Your buzzy friends will thank you for it.
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