Honey Bee Life Spans Are 50% Shorter Today Than 50 Years Ago
(CTN News) – The University of Maryland’s entomologists have found that the lifespan of honey bees kept in a controlled laboratory environment is 50% shorter than in the 1970s. Scientists have modeled the effect of today’s shorter lifespans.
The results correspond to the decrease in honey production and increased colony loss experienced by American beekeepers in recent decades.
Honey Bee colonies naturally age and die off, so colony turnover is an accepted part of the beekeeping business. There has been a high rate of loss among U.S. beekeepers in the past decade. This has resulted in the need to replace more colonies in order to maintain profitability in the industry.
A number of factors have been studied in an effort to understand why this is so, including environmental stressors, diseases, parasites, pesticide exposure, and nutrition.
As the first study to demonstrate an overall decline in lifespan possibly independent of environmental stressors, this study indicates that genetic factors may be influencing broader trends in the beekeeping industry. In the journal Scientific Reports, the study was published.
” It may also suggest a possible solution if this hypothesis is accurate. In the event that we are able to isolate some genetic factors, maybe we will be able to breed honey bees that live longer.”
The decline in lifespan was first detected by Near man. He was conducting a study with entomology associate professor Dennis van Engel sdorp on standardized procedures for rearing adult bees in the laboratory.
In a replication of an earlier study, the researchers collected bee pupae from honey bee hives within 24 hours of their emergence from wax cells. In special cages, the collected bees were kept after they had finished growing in an incubator.
Nearman was evaluating the effect of supplementing caged Honey Bee’ sugar water diets with plain water to mimic natural conditions. However, he noticed that, regardless of diet, his caged bees’ median lifespans were half that of caged bees in similar experiments conducted in the 1970s.
It has been reported that people live for an average of 17.7 days today, compared with 34.3 days in the 1970s. This has led to a review of published laboratory studies dating back to the 1950s.
Near man stated, “When I plotted the lifespans over time, I realized that there is actually a large time effect at work.” Since standardized protocols were not developed until the 2000s, you would assume that lifespans would be longer as we get better at this, right? In fact, the mortality rate doubled.”
According to Near man and van Engels dorp, their lab-kept bees may have been exposed to low-level viral contamination or pesticide exposure during their larval stage, when they are brooding in the hive and being fed by workers.
Other insects such as fruit flies have been shown to have a genetic component to longevity, but bees have not displayed overt symptoms of those exposures.
Researchers will next compare trends in honey Bee lifespans across the United States and other countries. Upon discovering differences in longevity, they can isolate and compare potential contributing factors, such as genetics, pesticide use, and the presence of viruses among local bee populations.
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