Educational Resources Lets Talk Science Challenge participants

bees on frame held by beekeeper

Bees on frame held by beekeeper (Caballero1967 [CC BY-SA 4.0], Wikimedia Commons)

STEM in Context

How are the World's Bee Populations Doing?

Let's Talk Science

Summary

Bees are important for agriculture. But bee populations face threats. This resource looks at Colony Collapse Disorder, herbicides & pesticides, and more.
Are the bees ok now? (2019) by SciShow (3:29 min.).

In 2006 scientists got worried. More and more honey bees across the U.S. were abandoning their hives. And no one really knew why. 
This problem was named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  It affected almost one in four commercial beekeepers. CCD continued in the U.S. for a few years. Beekeepers around the world became concerned, too. But because no one had systematically counted bees, it was hard to tell just how many bee populations had been affected.

Did you know?

Scientists in Vancouver found that they could measure local pollution by analyzing the chemicals in the honey of local bees.

There is little doubt that bee populations are going down. In fact, insect populations in general are going down.  But is CCD a new problem with a single cause? Or is CCD just a reflection of general problems that insects are having?  Numbers of bees in Canada do seem to be higher than they were in 2006-2008.

 

3675-Figure1-EN-Final

Misconception Alert

You may have heard that bees are responsible for pollinating ¾ of the food plants we eat. But keep in mind that ⅔ of the food we eat doesn’t need bees or other animals for pollination. (3) Rice and wheat are examples. But we would certainly lose a lot of fruits, vegetables, and healthy food variety without bees. 

But what caused all of those bee deaths? Scientists have suggested several causes. For example, maybe viruses, mites, or parasites caused CCD. Maybe climate change or habitat loss caused CCD. A lot of scientists blame pesticides, especially a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids (neonics). 
Neonics are the most popular kind of pesticide in Canada. This pesticide is a neurotoxin that is taken up into the plant tissues. It is supposed to kill off the insect pests that eat or damage a crop. But when bees consume the nectar and pollen of flowers that have been sprayed with it, they can die, too.The neurotoxin affects the bees’ nervous systems. This causes them to become confused and disoriented. An affected bee can also bring contaminated nectar and pollen back to the hive. There, it can affect the whole hive.

Did you know?

Bee numbers have been going down, but agriculture has been going up. Because of this, farmers in China (and elsewhere) have been pollinating their plants by hand. Scientists are even developing robot bees!

Hand pollinating apple blossom/Agriculteur pollinisant une fleur de pommier au moyen d’un pinceau
Farmer pollinating an apple blossom using a paint brush (Source: Latvian via iStockphoto).

At the end of 2018, the European Union banned all outdoor uses of the three main neonicotinoids — imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. In Canada, the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency has announced that it will phase out neonicotinoids over three to five years. 

STARTING POINTS

Connecting and Relating
  • Are you afraid of bees? Why/why not?
  • Have you ever watched a bee as it collected nectar from a flower? What did you observe?
  • Are you concerned about how a decline in the bee population might affect you? Why/why not?
  • Have you ever seen a bee colony? What was your impression of it?
  • How would you feel if you learned someone wanted to set up a bee colony near your home or school? Explain.
Connecting and Relating
  • Are you afraid of bees? Why/why not?
  • Have you ever watched a bee as it collected nectar from a flower? What did you observe?
  • Are you concerned about how a decline in the bee population might affect you? Why/why not?
  • Have you ever seen a bee colony? What was your impression of it?
  • How would you feel if you learned someone wanted to set up a bee colony near your home or school? Explain.
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
  • What role should governments play in regulating pesticides which contribute to a declining bee population? Explain.
  • Should government money be spent to protect bees and the plants they pollinate? Explain.
  • How should it be decided what land is used for development and what land should be left undisturbed to protect pollinator biodiversity?
  • In the 1940s our increased understanding of organic chemistry resulted in the development of the first chemical pesticides, which increased food production. Describe how chemical pesticide technology is an example of the interrelationship between science, technology, society and the environment.
  • How is the decline of bee populations likely to affect the price of fresh fruit and other food sources?
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
  • What role should governments play in regulating pesticides which contribute to a declining bee population? Explain.
  • Should government money be spent to protect bees and the plants they pollinate? Explain.
  • How should it be decided what land is used for development and what land should be left undisturbed to protect pollinator biodiversity?
  • In the 1940s our increased understanding of organic chemistry resulted in the development of the first chemical pesticides, which increased food production. Describe how chemical pesticide technology is an example of the interrelationship between science, technology, society and the environment.
  • How is the decline of bee populations likely to affect the price of fresh fruit and other food sources?
Exploring Concepts
  • What is colony collapse disorder? What are the main causes of colony collapse disorder?
  • How could parasites (e.g.,varroa mites) be contributing to colony collapse disorder? 
  • What types of crops are neonicotinoids used on? What types of pests are they designed to control? What are the potential risks of removing all forms of neonicotinoids from agricultural use? (Note: this question will require some additional research).
Exploring Concepts
  • What is colony collapse disorder? What are the main causes of colony collapse disorder?
  • How could parasites (e.g.,varroa mites) be contributing to colony collapse disorder? 
  • What types of crops are neonicotinoids used on? What types of pests are they designed to control? What are the potential risks of removing all forms of neonicotinoids from agricultural use? (Note: this question will require some additional research).
Media Literacy
  • How could media be used to educate about the effects of a declining bee population?
  • Loss of natural habitat is said to be a likely factor for decreasing bee populations. Do you think popular media should share some of the responsibility for this because of the way it helps create a desire for material things among members of our society? Why/why not?
Media Literacy
  • How could media be used to educate about the effects of a declining bee population?
  • Loss of natural habitat is said to be a likely factor for decreasing bee populations. Do you think popular media should share some of the responsibility for this because of the way it helps create a desire for material things among members of our society? Why/why not?
Teaching Suggestions
  • This video and article can be used in Earth & the Environment supporting teaching and learning related to agriculture, crops, herbicides & pesticides, populations, parasitism and plant reproduction. The video explores the potential causes and issues related to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in bee populations. Concepts introduced include populations, pollinating, Colony Collapse Disorder, neonicotinoids, neurotoxin, parasites, pesticides, insecticides and varroa mites.
  • Before watching the video “Are the bees OK now? (SciShow),” teachers could have students complete a Vocabulary Preview learning strategy to help students identify key terminology and activate their prior knowledge about bees. Download ready-to-use reproducibles using the learning strategy for this article in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
  • After watching the video, teachers could use the My Questions Round Robin Learning strategy to provide students with an opportunity to ask questions to consolidate their understanding of information provided in the video. Download ready-to-use reproducibles using this learning strategy in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
  • Additionally, students could complete an Issues & Stakeholders learning strategy to explore the issues related to Colony Collapse Disorder and declining bee populations and how these issues impact different stakeholders in society (e.g., governments, scientists, pesticide manufacturers, crop farmers, bee producers, supermarkets and the public). Download ready-to-use reproducibles using this learning strategy in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
Teaching Suggestions
  • This video and article can be used in Earth & the Environment supporting teaching and learning related to agriculture, crops, herbicides & pesticides, populations, parasitism and plant reproduction. The video explores the potential causes and issues related to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in bee populations. Concepts introduced include populations, pollinating, Colony Collapse Disorder, neonicotinoids, neurotoxin, parasites, pesticides, insecticides and varroa mites.
  • Before watching the video “Are the bees OK now? (SciShow),” teachers could have students complete a Vocabulary Preview learning strategy to help students identify key terminology and activate their prior knowledge about bees. Download ready-to-use reproducibles using the learning strategy for this article in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
  • After watching the video, teachers could use the My Questions Round Robin Learning strategy to provide students with an opportunity to ask questions to consolidate their understanding of information provided in the video. Download ready-to-use reproducibles using this learning strategy in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
  • Additionally, students could complete an Issues & Stakeholders learning strategy to explore the issues related to Colony Collapse Disorder and declining bee populations and how these issues impact different stakeholders in society (e.g., governments, scientists, pesticide manufacturers, crop farmers, bee producers, supermarkets and the public). Download ready-to-use reproducibles using this learning strategy in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.

Learn more

Why Insect Populations Are Plummeting - and why it matters

Discussion from National Geographic of the larger issue of the overall decline in insect numbers

Bees, lies and evidence-based policy

An article in Nature explaining why one scientist thinks the EU’s pesticide ban may be based on exaggerated fears

The bees are dying, but can we really blame neonicotinoid pesticides for a global epidemic? (2015)

A National Post article where a scientist looks at all the threats to bees in Canada, the issues around pesticides and what we can do to help bees to thrive.

Health Canada's proposal to ban two neonicotinoids (2018)

CBC Quirks and Quarks interview with a scientist who fears loopholes in the proposed Canadian ban.

Let’s Talk Honey (2016)

Statistics Canada gives a look at the history and growth of commercial beekeeping in Canada.

References

Ferrier, P. (2018).  Despite elevated loss rate since 2006, U.S. honey bee colony numbers are stable. United States Department of Agriculture.

Klein, A., Vaissière, B., Cane, J., Steffan-Dewenter, I., Cunningham, S., Kremen, C., & Tscharntke, T. (2007). Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 274(1608), 303-313. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2006.3721

Statistics Canada. (2018). Let's talk honey.

VanEngelsdrop, D., Underwood, R., Caron, D., & Hayes Jr, J. (2007). Estimate of managed colony losses in the winter of 2006-2007: A report commissioned by the Apiary Inspectors of America. American Bee Journal, 147(7), 599-603.