For years, honeybees were dying, and no one knew why.
There have been some glimmers of hope recently. The number of bee deaths wasn’t as dramatic last winter. Studies began pointing the finger at pesticides.
But a simple fact remains: Bees still are on the decline, and no one’s sure why.
They’re dying in large numbers, and scientists are scrambling to identify the cause. Beekeepers used to see about 5 or 10 percent of the bees in their hives die every year, but starting in 2006, losses jumped to 30 percent. About 10 million beehives, worth an estimated $2 billion, have been lost since then. The numbers are down slightly for last winter, when beekeepers lost about 23 percent.
A lot has changed since the issue exploded into public consciousness. Here’s what you need to know about what could be causing the bee die-off and what can be done about it.
We need honeybees.
Bees are responsible for about one-third of the food we eat. They add $15 billion annually in value to American crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And commercial agriculture depends on them.
Without honeybees, whole harvests of fruits, vegetables and nuts would fail. Alfalfa couldn’t survive. That would lead to trouble in the beef and dairy industries, as well. Bees also pollinate oilseeds, which make up much of the world’s supply of fat. Plus, cotton is an oilseed, which means the cotton trade would be in trouble, too.