America's food supply depends greatly on honeybees. As they buzz from blossom to blossom, gathering nectar, they incidentally transport pollen that fertilizes about one-third of crops.
But this natural symbiosis is at risk, because millions of U.S. bee colonies mysteriously are dying. Since 2006, an estimated 10 million American hives have been lost, and three-fourths of U.S. beekeepers have quit the business. Europe, Asia and other regions likewise are suffering. Some alarmed ecologists repeat a quote attributed (perhaps mistakenly) to Einstein:
"If the bee disappears from the surface of the globe, man would have no more than four years to live."
However, the Aug. 19 Time says this dire warning isn't quite correct. "The backbone of the world's diet -- grains like corn, wheat and rice -- is self-pollinating," the magazine says. But bees are essential for melons, apples, pears, cherries, apricots, lettuce, berries, nuts, squashes, cucumbers and manifold others -- about one in three U.S. foods.
If bees disappeared, billions would be lost from America's economy and nutrition would be severely limited.
Researchers can't yet learn what's causing the massive die-off. Some experts blame 1,200 different pesticides sprayed on farm fields. Others blame microscopic parasites, bacteria or viruses. Europe banned suspected pesticides called neonicotinoids, but French bees kept on dying. Scientists are rushing to find an explanation.
"One way we all can help is planting bee-friendly flowers in backyard gardens and keeping them free of pesticides," Time says. Good idea.
The magazine repeats an ugly reminder that up to 100,000 animal species go extinct every year. It will be dismaying if honeybees join the procession to oblivion.