Scientists have been pointing towards the steep decline in bee population for some time now. Although initially blamed on pesticide oversaturation and mite infestation, the 40 percent drop in bee population may be attributable to dementia.
Last year alone, bee populations across the United States have dwindled and in total, they lost more than 42 percent of their representatives. Moreover, as scientists reveal, it’s for the first time that bee deaths during the summer time have outweighed winter deaths. With beehive loss percentages as high as 63 percent, researchers attempted to identify the cause of such steep declines.
A recent study that resulted after the collaboration of scientists from the University of Sussex and Keele University, revealed that aluminium contamination may, in fact, be the root of all evil. Aluminium contamination is believed to be the cause of dementia and additional debilitating cognitive dysfunction in bee populations.
Aluminium acts as a neurotoxin in both animals and humans. Contamination with the element often results in behavioural shifts, and as one would expect, bees are some of the most cognitive function-dependent representatives of the animal kingdom. Everyday behaviour, such as nectar gathering, navigation, returning home, depends on the data that bees process and integrate.
“Aluminum-induced cognitive dysfunction may play a role in their population decline: are we looking at bees with Alzheimer’s disease?” Chris Exley, Keele University researcher said.
Alongside Dave Goulson, Exley tested bumblebee pupae, searching for possible aluminum contamination. They analyzed multiple bee colonies and measured the levels of aluminum and concluded that the majority of pupae had been exposed to massive amounts of the element.
For the human brain, as much as 3ppm(parts per million) of Aluminum is considered harmful, yet after having tested the bee pupae, Exley and Goulson found that almost all of the tested pupae had levels as high as 220ppm.
Scientists have long known that aluminum represents one of the major environmental contaminants in recent years, however, they hadn’t anticipated its effects. Other studies have connected aluminum contamination with a decline in fish population and now, Exley and Goulson are convinced that the same contamination is responsible for disrupting a bee’s cognitive process.
Granted, there is a multitude of contributing factors which could explain the decline in bee population, from parasite attacks to a lack of flowers and even pesticide exposure. Yet this new data may point horticulturists and specialists in a better direction.
Aluminum may stem from various origins, including fossil fuel burning, agriculture aiming for high sulphate soils or aluminum mining. Hopefully in the future, researchers will be able to find ways of preventing bee population declines, especially since the human race (as well as the animal kingdom) rely so heavily on the work they do.
Image Source: bethtrissel