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Bee Shortage Leads to Food Shortage

The number of domesticated honeybees in the U.S. hasdeclined by about 50%. Unless this changes, many fruits andvegetables may disappear from the food supply.

John Roach writes in National Geographic News that beepollination is responsible for 15 to 30% of the food we eat.Biologist Claire Kremen is hearing many more stories latelyabout farmers losing their crops due to the honeybeeshortage. Last February, there weren't enough honeybees forall the almond blossoms in California, so some farmers hadsmaller crops than usual.

Entomologist Dewey Caron says, "?We started to ask, Well,what is affecting the bees? What can we do to keep themhealthier?"

The honeybee decline is mostly caused by diseases that arespread by mites and other parasites, as well as the sprayingof crops with pesticides. Mites can wipe out a bee colonywithin a few months.

Researchers are having some success controlling mites byincreasing the ventilation of bee colonies. Most hives areairtight, to protect bees from the elements. Caron says, "Ifanyone on an airplane has a cold, you are exposed to it. Ifthey are sneezing, you have the potential to catch thatcold. Bee colonies, too, are airtight. Once the pathogen isin there, it will have a better chance of spreading." Theyare also trying to find wild bees that are less susceptibleto mites and interbreed them with domestic bees.

Decades of pesticide use has also reduced the number ofhoneybees, though farmers are now learning not to apply themwhile their crops are blooming. Kremen says, "People aredefinitely smarter than they used to be about how they applypesticides."

Entomologist Maryann Frazier says, "?The beekeepers aredesperate."

Never underestimate the magical powers ofbees.

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