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An Alarming Note On Honey Bee Population

An Alarming Note On Honey Bee Population

By Rudrajit Sarkar (PG student. Department of Zoology, Asutosh College) & Ajay Kumar Mandal (Professor. PG Department of Zoology, Asutosh College)

Abstract

Insects, especially honey bees, provide numerous primary environmental services from recycling of nutrients to pollination, beside their fundamental contribution to food resources of many vertebrate animals. In the recent decades, nectarivores bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate. A plethora of factors such as clearing of virgin forests destroying the nesting habitats of bee species, usage of neonicotinoid pesticides in crop fields, high intensity radio wave and microwave emissions due to cell phones and phone towers along with unscientific waste management like improper disposal of paper cups are contributing to the decline in bee populations. This paper focusses to make people alert in order to conserve honey bee population in our country.

Keywords: Bee, Biodiversity, Conservation, Population.

Introduction

Honey bees belong to a category of ecologically and economically important group pf insects. Bees pollinate 16% of the total 0.25 million plant species worldwide. One-third of human diet is derived directly or indirectly from bee pollination in developed countries. In India, ample yield increase in food crops have been recorded from honey bee pollination according to the National Bee Board ( apple 180-6950%, pear 240-6014%, cherries 56-1000%, strawberry 17.4-91.9%, litchi 4538-10246%, orange 47-900%, guava 70-140% ). 12 crops including 8 fruit crops (almond, apple, citrus, coconut, guava, grapes, mango and papaya) are most dependent on pollination by honey bees. Bees are the source of honey forming an integral part of our diet due to its high energy value ( 304 calories per 100gm ) and rich in antioxidants which makes it very popular in ayurvedic medicines. According to the Zoological Survey of India, nearly 20,000 tones of honey are produced in the Sundarbans of which 80% is exported photo USA, European nations and middle east earning huge revenues from abroad. Beeswax obtained from bee hives is used as the manufacture of several cosmetic items like moisturizers, lip balm, eye liners etc. Apart from these products, bee venom is given as a shot for rheumatoid arthritis, neuralgia, multiple sclerosis, venom immunotherapy, tendonitis, firmicutes and enthuse it is. Apart from the economical contributions, honey bees form an important part of the food-chain, serving as prey items for a great number of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammalian species. It also helps in maintaining biodiversity and propagating the genes of various rare, endemic and endangered plant species. Out of the eight commonly known bee species, five are Apis ceranaindica, A.florea, A.dorsata, A.andreniformis, A.laboriosaare indigenous Indian species and Apis mellifera has been introduced from Europe. Among the indigenous species, Apis dorsata is most highly encountered in the wild. The depletion of honey bees in the wild and in agroecosystems due to habitat loss, pesticide applications, plant diversity loss, modernization of electronic systems (cell phones) is a matter of serious concern on honey bee depletion.

Effects Of Loss Of Plant Diversity On Honey Bee Population

Honey bees rely on a variety of plants for their foraging. Though a single species can feed on the nectar of different plants but most of them prefer a single species of plant over the rest. Indiscriminate cutting of trees to create space for crop fields is not only robbing the bees a suitable place for nesting and building a hive, as most species of honey bees prefer large trees with straight strong branches high above the ground that not only protects them from the enemies and predators but helps them in foraging as well. Honey bees are not observed to build hives in urban landscapes so destruction of forests is a major threat to their population. Also, clearing of forest areas for crop plantations destroy plant diversity as a particular species is favored over the thousands that existed which limits the choice of food for the honeybees forcing them to travel over distances longer than usual which puts them in added danger of getting lost or being attacked by predators leading to loss of worker population in the colony which ultimately makes the colony vulnerable and causes starvation and death of the larvae and queen in the long run.

Effects Of Neonicotinoid Insecticides On Honey Bee Population

Neonicotinoids are a group of very popular insecticides used by agriculturalists both abroad and in the Indian Subcontinent. These are neurotoxic insecticides that act agonistically to the acetylcholine receptors in the insect nervous system leading to hyperactivity, impaired cognitive, learning and memory forming abilities of the workers which in turn suppresses their foraging and homing skills. In the larvae exposed to neonicotinoids, muscular atrophy and impaired development are observed. Apart from the non-reproductive castes, the queens who were exposed to neonicotinoid compounds Thia-Metoxen and Clothianidin during the larval stages were observed having reduced spermathecal capacity to store sperms and reduced mating frequencies which resulted in the fewer production of queens and workers leading to an overall decline in gene frequency of the colony that may lead to local extinction.

Cell Phones And Honey Bee Population

Cell phones and cell phone towers are sources of very high intensity radio waves and microwaves. These electromagnetic radiations hamper with the foraging and homing instincts of honey bees as they rely on the earth’s geo-magnetic axis to navigate between their food source and hives. Such high frequency waves interfere with their sense of direction leading to the bees getting lost and ultimately dying. In an experiment conducted by showed the effect of cell phones directly on the health of a colony. A cell phone was placed a month next to a hive and 15 minute calls were made per day. After a month it was observed that the worker population has declined to about 80% with larval damage occurring in the colony. This experiment shows the negative impact mechanization and communication technology has on the environment.

Consequences Of Improper Waste Management On Honey Bee Population

Improper waste disposal in urban recreational areas like restaurants, parks, gardens etc. are becoming a nuisance for the bees. A study conducted in Tamil Nadu highlights the extent of the problem. Usage of disposable paper cups in coffee/tea stalls in urban, semi-urban, rural and ecotourism spots and protected areas in different states are very common in India. The sugary residue left behind in the abandoned beverage cups attracts the honey bees on a large scale. Instead of visiting the natural flowers, the bees are attracted more by the sugar rich residues in the cups using it as alternative food resources. But these cups act as ‘death traps’ for the bees as they fall into the cups and gets enmeshed in the syrupy residues unable to fly out. This causes cataclysmic population decline of honey bees. The study reported the death of nearly 168 bees per day from a single shop and confirmed 25,211 dead bees in the coffee bars in the study area within 30 days.

Discussion

Based on the studies regarding the causes of decline of honey bee populations a lot of points have come up. Honey bees are an essential part and parcel of our environment contributing both economically and ecologically to our welfare but due to various anthropogenic activities their whole existence is at stake. Indiscriminate destruction of forest ecosystems are robbing the bees a place to thrive. Extensive use of toxic pesticides are hampering with the fecundity and development of both the reproductive and non-reproductive castes of bees respectively. Ionizing electromagnetic high intensity radiations from cell phones are causing the bees to die and lose their valuable homing and foraging abilities. Improper waste disposal in urban, semi-urban, rural and ecotourism spots are wreaking havoc to the local bee population. All such factors are culminating at the same time reducing the number of honey bees exponentially.

Conclusion

Honey bees are the gifts of nature towards mankind. But unfortunately it is us who are destroying our gifts due to greed and lack of awareness. Honey bees should be protected at all costs and recent research activities should be dedicated in restoring their natural habitats and conserving whatever is left for the future generations. More stringent forest protection laws should be formulated and implemented to conserve floral diversity. Agriculturalists should opt for natural pest controlling agents like birds, frogs, lizards, fish etc. to protect their crops against insect pests rather than resorting to toxic chemicals. Use of cell phones should be prohibited in ecological parks and low bandwidth signals can be used for telecommunication which is less harmful to the health of the bees. Proper waste disposal units should be organized by municipal authorities to reduce pollution and destroy probable artifacts that can act as traps for the foraging bees. More and more trees and variety of flowering plants need to be planted in urban and semi-urban areas to provide an alternative habitat for the bees to survive. Finally, awareness should be created about the usefulness of honey bees within common people through popular bee conservation programmers. We should not forget that natural resources are non-renewable and nature should be given a chance for a better future of our upcoming generations.

Acknowledgement

We are indebted to the Vice-principal Prof. Apurba Roy and Dr. Sajal Bhattacharya, Head Of The PG Department of Zoology, Asutosh College, Kolkata for giving us the opportunity to work in the department. We would sincerely thank Dr. Sandip Pal Assistant Professor, Rashtraguru Surendranath College, Barrackpore, for encouraging us to complete it properly.

Did You Know

  • When a bee finds a good source of nectar it flies back to the hive and shows its friends where the nectar source is by doing a dance which positions the flower in relation to the sun and hive. This is known as the ‘waggle dance.’
  • Honey lasts an incredibly long time. An explorer who found a 2000 year old jar of honey in an Egyptian tomb said it tasted delicious!
  • The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.

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