Depressing New Study Reveals How Many Bees Have Died In 15 Years 

Researchers in Georgia found in a recent study that bees in remote areas, miles from human development, are dying at the same rate as other hives, exposing the very real nature of a world without the important pollinators.

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

It’s been an open secret that our population of bees has been declining in recent years (one of the reasons we now vaccinate them and Chris Pratt has picked up beekeeping), but we previously had little idea of how long this had been going on or how bad things have gotten. That has now changed thanks to a recent study published in Current Biology. According to this 15-year study focused on forested, remote areas of Georgia’s Oconee National Forest, 62.5 percent of the original bee population has been lost.

At this point, those who aren’t natural bee lovers may be asking a simple (if slightly heartless) question: how does the decline in the population of bees affect the average person? The answer is “quite a lot,” and it has to do with that whole circle of life thing that Disney turned into such a catchy song. As pollinators, bees help us grow the plants that humans and our livestock rely on for survival.

As the bee population declines, that circle of life is affected on a fundamental level. Think about it this way: as the number of bees decreases, the number of plants also decreases. That will lead to a decline in the livestock that, combined with the loss of the plants themselves, could threaten the very survival of humanity.

If that’s not bad enough, this study also blows a big hole in our general assumption regarding the bee population declining so much in recent years. For the most part, scientists have assumed that bees are dying off due to anthropogenic disturbances (a fancy way of saying that human development of the land is harming the bees). While such disturbances probably didn’t help anything, this study focused explicitly on remote areas without human development, and the findings indicate that the decline in the bee population is not limited to areas with large concentrations of people and industrial development.

A honey bee

While most of the public has been focusing on bees, it’s important (and sad) to note that there has also been a sharp decline in the population of butterflies as well. The same study that measured such a decline in bees in this remote area also discovered that the butterfly population declined by a whopping 57.6 percent. This helps underscore the need to get to the bottom of what is causing this population decline before it is too late.

But if human disturbances aren’t behind what is killing the bees and the butterflies, then what is? The researchers put forth some hypothetical ideas in the study, including invasive species harming other populations. For example, an invasive wood-nesting ant could very well be causing havoc with the carpenter bees in the Oconee National Forest (as for us, we’d hate to think about the damage those recent invasive super pigs could cause to other populations).

The researchers’ other hypothetical, though, is the more likely culprit: the rising minimum temperatures around the planet attributed to climate change. This idea presents the sobering reality that there is no area remote enough to be free from the rising temperatures and that there may be no way to prevent the deaths of countless more bees. If that should happen, the only question remains how many others will die (from butterflies to livestock to human beings) before we begin to take climate change seriously as a society? That means more than cranking out the occasional Kit Harrington series.

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