The bee population in many areas of the world has been in a steep decline over the last four years, and until quite recently, scientists had no idea why. Were this decline to continue uninterrupted, it could spell the end for some fruits and vegetables altogether as far as farming is concerned, and would generally be devastating for produce growers. The decline has been named Colony Collapse Disorder, and parasites and climate change were once thought mostly to blame.
The effect that bees have on crop growth is amazing, and their loss would be incredibly costly to the economy. The total value of produce pollinated by bees in the United States alone is estimated at around $12 billion.
But CNN reported a study today that could reveal the reason behind the decline, though it’s doubtful whether there’s anything people would actually be willing to do in order to stop it. Apparently, the bees may be emigrating away from areas with high cell-phone use:
In a study at Panjab University in Chandigarh, northern India, researchers fitted cell phones to a hive and powered them up for two fifteen-minute periods each day. After three months, they found the bees stopped producing honey, egg production by the queen bee halved, and the size of the hive dramatically reduced.
The key behind the disturbance, some scientists believe, is a pigment called cryptochrome. Bees and many other insects use cryptochrome to sense the Earth’s magnetic field and use that knowledge to find their ways back to their hives. But some of the radiation emanating from cell phones is disturbing the bees sense of direction. Basically, the bees never get home once they leave.
But there is disagreement on this point:
Norman Carreck, Scientific director of the International Bee research Association at the UK’s University of Sussex says it’s still not clear how much radio waves affect bees.
“We know they are sensitive to magnetic fields. What we don’t know is what use they actually make of them. And no one has yet demonstrated that honey bees use the earth’s magnetic field when navigating,” Carreck said.
As of now, steps are being taken to curb other causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, but no plans are being made to change cell phone signals so that they do not disrupt the potential navigation abilities of bees.
Andrew Goldsworthy, a biologist from the UK’s Imperial College, London, thinks that we wouldn’t have to lose anything in order to keep our bees coming home:
“It’s possible to modify the signal coming from the [cell] phones and the base station in such a way that it doesn’t produce the frequencies that disturb the cryptochrome molecules,” Goldsworthy said.
“So they could do this without the signal losing its ability to transmit information.”
Here is CNN’s video: