The recurring nightmare of bees: Glyphosate

The recurring nightmare of bees: Glyphosate

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Insects are essential for the maintenance of life on the planet. So far, science has described approximately 1.8 billion animal species, and of this total, about 70% are species other than insects.

It is estimated that 4.5 million species of bees have yet to be discovered. Insects undoubtedly make up the largest group of living things on Earth.

Among many ecosystem services they perform, insects feed other animals, control pests, break down organic matter, clean water, and maintain soil fertility. However, there is a global alarm for the massive loss of insects, it is reported that populations could have decreased by up to 41% of the total species and that a third of the total is in danger of extinction.

Although there are no detailed studies, it is believed that there is a reduction in the total mass of insect populations at a rate of 2.5% per year.

Will the planet run out of insects in the near future?

From the world of insects, and because of the relationship they have had with humans, pollinating insects stand out. These are an essential component in most agricultural systems as they carry flower pollen from one plant to another, and thus encourage the great diversity of plants that exist in the world; for example, a bumblebee can pollinate up to 3,800 flowers in a single day.

In addition and very important, without pollinators there would be no food, they contribute directly to the production of a third of total food worldwide, they are produced: almonds, asparagus, apples, cauliflower, melon, broccoli, onions, cherries, cucumbers, pumpkins, strawberries, carrots, cocoa, grapes, olives, nuts, among many other foods with pollination through these insects, and it is known that wild pollinators can double the yields in the production of strawberries and cherries.

Another very important element in the diet and economy of many people is honey. Globally, each year 1.6 billion tons of honey are produced, the main producer is China (half a million tons), and Mexico, the United States, Argentina are also important producers of honey. Europe is the main destination for honey (approximately 200 thousand tons are imported each year).

However, it is now known that industrial agricultural activity has a negative effect on the lives of pollinators. Between the years 1980 and 2000, more than half of the agricultural areas, mainly industrialized, were created by eliminating forest areas in different countries. In the period between 2000 and 2010, the amount of forest removed to make agricultural areas rose to 80%, and the amount of pesticides applied to industrial agriculture increased 5 times from 1950 to now.

Annually, in agro-industries, 4 million tons of pesticide chemicals are used worldwide, which has effects on the entire ecosystem, for example: herbicides in addition to eliminating plants that can be a source of food for bees and other pollinators, they progressively poison these animals, affecting their vital functions, such as finding food or reproducing, until they die, or inherit the effects of pesticides.

The herbicide glyphosate is the most widely used chemical in the history of agriculture, and although it has been said to be non-toxic to bees and other pollinators, accumulating evidence points to the contrary.

A recent study found that exposure of bees to glyphosate alters their sleep patterns and amount. Learning and memory are essential for the development and survival of bees, in fact, the pollen collection process depends largely on these skills (for example, when finding a flower, being able to return to it after a trip back to collect nectar or pollen), the memory of a certain characteristic of the flower, such as its smell, smell, or the quality of its nectar.

It happens that an aroma can be present in different species of flowers and these have different amounts of nectar. Normally, bees can detect scents and associate a specific one with a flower that produces more nectar.

Glyphosate was found to affect the elemental ability to associate the smell of a flower and the "reward" for the bee of finding sweet nectar: ​​bees that are exposed to glyphosate "forget" the relationship between the specific smell of a flower and the type of nectar in it.

During exploratory flights in search of flowers to forage, bees use elements such as the position of the sun, the characteristics of the landscape and others, which allow them to orient themselves when they find a place to feed, such as to return to the hive. This is a complex cognitive process that requires memorization of information that comes from different sensory aspects.

Glyphosate affects the orientation and navigation ability of bees. Those who were exposed to glyphosate flew disoriented and took longer to return to the hive than those who were not exposed to the herbicide. In addition, bees exposed to glyphosate carried it to the hive, with which both larvae and "worker" bees are exposed to glyphosate.

The nectar, royal jelly and other food resources that are brought to the hive are available to all bees regardless of the stage of development in which they are (from larvae to the queen bee), it was found that glyphosate causes delay in development of larvae and young bees.

Bees and other pollinators are in great danger from exposure to agrochemicals. Many affectations have been documented by a class of substances known as neonicotinoids, and the number of evidences on the damage caused by the herbicide glyphosate is currently growing to such a degree that the Special Rapporteur on Economic Rights was requested in early 2020, Social, Cultural and Environmental Bees and pollinators in general are declared Natural Heritage, since pollination is an essential activity in the preservation of biological diversity, thereby putting the human right to adequate food at risk.

Latin American countries are required to prohibit the use of pesticides such as the insecticides neonicotinoids and fipronil and the herbicide glyphosate. It was also requested that the species of native stingless bees (meliponas) be declared as endangered species. Finally, it is necessary to mention that the life and function of bees is intimately linked to the life of peasant and indigenous communities and peoples, so if you want to maintain bees and other pollinators, ecosystems and peoples must be maintained. that inhabit these.

"If the bee disappeared from the face of the earth, man would only have four years to live"

Maurice Maeterlinck, in “The life of bees

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