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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Extinction of a Pollinator: evolution defying transition of humble bee into crumble bee

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The Royal Horticultural Society – RHS – confirmed recently something that has been in the domain of gardeners and bee keepers as an open secret for well over a three years: the bee population in Britain – and in Europe America too – are in serious decline and therefore, long-term ramifications do not need a PR boost, as they are blatantly obvious to anyone with an iota of common sense.

Even those who stubbornly adhere to the notion that this world suddenly came about due to an accident on mega scale, followed by a very loud explosion, which physicists call The Big Bang, often wonder about nature’s marvels in their silent hours.

The philosophical thought often visits them while sipping a glass of cold beer under the shade of a tree or lying semi-naked in one’s own back garden in complete solitude on a warm day or making strange geometrical figures with puffs while smoking in an unrestricted area for the habit, which, more or less, shares the same predicament that bees are facing – threat of extinction by endless regulations.

The enthralling relationship that has been in existence between beautiful flowers and insects – or birds for that matter - since time immemorial is a case in point: the petals, for instance, are colourfully designed to attract the latter; in addition, there are guiding marks, sometimes, even ultra-violet marks – invisible to human, yet visible to insets –on petals in certain flowers in order to guarantee the attraction between the two continues unhindered, regardless of the zigzagging progress of mankind.

The grand design doesn’t end there; the flowers that rely on nocturnal creatures for its brand survival rely on scents rather than colours for the same trick, as bright colours make little sense to anyone at night. Moreover, the rough nature of pollen for sticking purposes and the presence of nectar at the deep end of the flower in such a way that the pollen gets stuck onto insect bodies, when it makes an attempt to reach nectar, highlight the multi-purpose fabric that binds elements of nature together for collective survival.

Amidst the reports that come from every major corner of the world depicting an alarmingly sharp decline in the number of bees, man has been under spotlight as the main culprit, not varrora mite which some suspect as the cause, who is responsible for turning a well-balanced equation in nature into a suicidal inequality in the long run.

Since bees play a key role in human food production, pollinating more than two-thirds of the world’s most important crop species – and providing the very service free – it is no laughing matter. Nor is it as easy as recovering from a natural disaster, say, an earthquake.

The trend, if continues at this rate, has the potential to leave a permanent gap in the food chain, while leaving the creatures at the top end in real trouble.

Bees account for around 80% of pollination by insects, according to global agricultural societies. The scarcity of bees, on one hand, would make many plant and animal species disappear; on the other hand, it would force farmers to resort to various enviable methods to do the very job by hand: for instance, they may have to take dust mops to collect pollen from some flowers and then unload them on different flowers in order to make sure cross pollination, as opposed to self-pollination, takes place for the sake of healthy offspring.

Farmers, gardeners and of course, bee keepers across the globe have been asking their respective authorities to intervene to reverse the trend, but to no avail. As usual, researches are divided: some blame it on neonicotinoid insecticides; others say more research is needed to establish the real facts. The learned men in the former say they have found traces of insecticides in the dead bees and blames the loss of orientation of the poor insects on certain chemicals found on insecticides.

Even if there is a link, it will be a Herculean task for the authorities to subdue the powerful agrochemical industry in order to reach a compromise. That is why the farmers and bee keepers want governments to act fast before it is too late.

A third group, meanwhile, suspect that there is a correlation between mushrooming 3G masts and the decline in the number of bees, due to a particular range of electromagnetic waves.

The exact cause may be open to debate; the numbers, however, are truly staggering. Since a colony usually provides home for thousands of bees, loss of colonies will have a direct impact on the farming of food crops in due course.

If the extinction has nothing do with human adventures – or misadventures – and it is nature’s desire, we can hardly do anything about it. Our intervention, as we see in the case of mosquitoes, take us nowhere other than the polluting the habitats with very little long term gain. If it is the case, nature often offers a substitute in order to compensate for the loss of our long term helper.

Therefore, it is the duty of the global entomologists’ community either to come up with a solution to the address the issue or to carry out more extensive research to see whether the natural substitute – perhaps, capable of making less buzz than what they do at present - is already in the offing.

Whatever the truth, in the light of alarming tendency, we have to protect nature’s little helpers in every feasible way – and for our own survival.

For a start, those who make a big fuss when a bee strays into their bedroom by accident in summer months, can show a bit more compassion for the hapless little creature - before scanning the corners for a can of insect repellent or wrapping it up in a pair of old threadbare knickers, while inadvertently portraying the creature in a comical dress sense, before being disposed of simultaneously.

- Asian Tribune -

Extinction of a Pollinator: evolution defying transition of humble bee into crumble bee
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