The agriculture world is clamoring for answers about the obstacles facing bee populations all over the globe. The number of honeybee colonies is decreasing, as more and more hives are mysteriously being abandoned, or their inhabitants struck down without warning.
Recent events have farmers, scientists and beekeepers on edge.
With approximately one-third of the food we eat requiring pollination, agricultural crop yields could be adversely affected, causing a ripple effect throughout the economy.
“Bees and other pollinators are important to agriculture because they move the pollen from one flower to another, fertilizing the flowers,” says Jon Zawislak, apiculture instructor for the University of Arkansas. “Without this, many fruits and vegetables would not be able to set seeds, and would not make fruits.”
Study after study is being performed to narrow down the cause of what the press refers to as the “bee-pocolypse.”
One such study by Dr. Gus Lorenz, extension entomologist for the University of Arkansas, tests the effects of a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids that are used to treat crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton.
Neonicotinoids effectively control invertebrate pests preying on crops. These insecticides are extremely water-soluble, and often applied to the ground for the plant to take up through its roots.
Lorenz’ study investigates recent claims that neonicotinoids are being expressed in the pollen and nectar of plants, causing premature bee deaths.
“That’s what everyone is telling us,” Lorenz says. “That’s the press that we get. Well, that’s not what we found when we did our trial.”
Of the crops tested, both soybean flowers and cotton nectar tested negative, with corn pollen presenting an incredibly low amount of neonicotinoids.
“It’s not expressed in the reproductive parts of the plants,” Lorenz says.
The implications of debunking this myth are tremendous, because it is virtually impossible for Arkansas growers to produce cotton and other important crops without the help of neonicotinoids.
While the true cause of these inexplicable bee deaths remains a mystery, experts like Lorenz continue to make strides to protect Arkansas’s bee populations and food sources.