40% of US honeybee colonies disappeared last year. This is what the world would look like without any bees at all.
- Last year, 40% of US honeybee colonies died or disappeared - the most severe bee decline ever recorded during the winter season.
- Bee populations worldwide have been shrinking for years. Earth is at risk of losing all its insects in 100 years.
- Without bees, crops worldwide would suffer, making nuts, fruits, and vegetable more expensive and difficult to produce.
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Bees are getting so scarce and so valuable that people are stealing hives from almond farms in California and selling them at steep prices.That's because the populations of both domestic honeybees and wild bees have been in decline for the last few decades. Extinction rates for pollinators have jumped to 100 to 1,000 times the normal rates, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). About 40% of invertebrate pollinators, especially bees and butterflies, are facing extinction worldwide.Advertisement
Today, the US has only 2.5 million honeybee colonies, less than half of the bee settlements it boasted in the 1940s.
Bees perform a crucial role in fruit, vegetable, and nut production - without the pollination work they do, humans would have to say goodbye to (or pay very steep prices for) some of our most nutritious foods, including berries, apples, almonds, cucumbers, peppers, and seeds.This is what the world would look like without bees.
An annual survey of 4,700 beekeepers found that since 2010, they've lost an average of 37.8% of US bee colonies each year. Last year was worse.
Last year, the US lost 40.7% of its honeybee colonies.Advertisement
Scientists still haven't figured out exactly what's killing the bees, but potential causes fall into four categories: pathogens, pests, stress, and pesticides.
Wild bees are declining too, and some studies suggest that they do more pollination than domesticated honeybees.Advertisement
The way things are going, Earth could lose all its insects by 2119.
Without bees to pollinate crops, yields on about 35% of agricultural land worldwide would suffer, and 87 of the world's leading food crops would be affected.Advertisement
Some of your favorite foods would become rare and more expensive — or perhaps disappear altogether. Berries, chocolate, apples, pears, pumpkin, avocado, onions, cucumber, and cabbage all rely heavily on bee pollination.
Almonds depend entirely on bees for pollination.Advertisement
Without bees, you'd also have to say goodbye to your morning brew, or at least pay a lot more for it.
More than half of the fat consumed around the world could be in trouble without bees, since all of the world's oilseed crops at least partially rely on bee pollination.Advertisement
Bee pollination also improves the quality of crops. A study in Burkina Faso found that cotton and sesame plants pollinated by bees had an average of 62% higher quality and quantity than those that self-pollinated.
Similarly, a European Commission study found that bee-pollinated strawberries are heavier, redder, firmer, and have fewer malformations than those that are wind-pollinated or self-pollinated.Advertisement
Cows and sheep also eat crops that depend on bees for pollination, such as alfalfa and clover. So dairy would become more expensive without bees as well.
Losing bees could even mean losing the clothes you like to wear, if they're made of cotton.Advertisement
The world has other pollinators, of course, but bees are best.
Honeybees often develop an affiliation for particular flowers; as a result, they often carry pollen from just one species of flower, which means they bring the right type of pollen to the flowers they visit.Advertisement
Overall, losing bees would lead to much higher levels of food insecurity.
There's also a financial cost, of course. Crops that require pollination are five times more valuable than those that don't, according to the FAO. In the US, honeybees are estimated to contribute $15 billion to the economy.Advertisement
Human hands and technology can pollinate crops, but it's pricey.
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