Little Guys Make a Difference
Posted by hyperpat on April 3, 2007
People like to think that they represent the apex of living things on this planet. But in some ways we’re totally outclassed by some pretty tiny life forms, namely insects. In terms of sheer numbers, we don’t even come close. And insects have been around a lot longer than people; many species are basically unchanged from what they were like sixty million years ago – a pretty good marker for just how successful they have been and how well integrated into their ecological niche they are. Clifford Simak, way back in the forties in the novel City, asked what would happen if you could jump start one variety of insect, the ant, out of its evolutionary fixed point – with the result that our Earth was eventually taken over by an ant civilization, a somewhat frightening example of just how much potential insects have. But as annoying and pestiferous as some insects are, they are also very essential to us, as without them large portions of the ecology would collapse. And some of them are very important to us economically, most especially bees.
Now while your first thought about bees might be honey or sting, bees are the workhorses of flowering plant pollination. While some pollination occurs via wind, ants, arachnids, and larger animal transport, the great majority of this function is accomplished by bees. And without this pollination, most of our fresh fruit and many other staple crops would cease to exist. And lately, it seems that bees are in trouble. A mysterious disease has apparently started attacking the colonies throughout much of the United States, in some areas causing the die off of 90% of the local colonies. The cause, so far, is unknown, with suggestions ranging from an imported disease from Australia to the dreaded ‘global warming’ (though so far there hasn’t been much credence given to the latter possibility). As of yet, the ‘killer’ Africanized hybrid bee doesn’t seem to be affected, but without knowing the cause for the current die off, there’s no guarantee that they won’t succumb also.
At least part of the current problem is too great a reliance on a single species of bee by many farmers. Knowledge of other ecological disasters would indicate that, like most things, we should not be placing all our eggs in one basket. And once again, a strong look should be made at just what chemicals, pesticides, and imported foreign species we’re adding to the environment, as clearly we don’t know enough yet to manually manage an ecology (and can’t even properly computer simulate it); we simply don’t know what unintended effects a single change to an environment will have. Obviously more research (and dollars to fund said research) is needed. But regardless of how quickly we can come up with an answer to the current problem, it’s already so far advanced that you can expect higher fruit prices this summer.
So be nice to our little invertebrate friends, or you just might find your dinner table awfully bare.