In these days of mass extinctions it seems that all of the animals and plants around us are dropping dead. Many of the species disappearing have been plagued by new diseases or in some cases, diseases they were previously resilient to have become deadly. Frog’s susceptibility to Chytrid fungus is one example.
It’s true that we are losing lots of species and this is reducing the diversity of life around us, but does having a diverse mix of life on this planet really matter to us? That’s an interesting question which I’ll investigate later but feel free to comment.
First though, did you know that bees, yes honey bees are a species which seems to be under attack? Between 1999 and 2006 a new disorder called ‘colony collapse disorder’ is suspected of reducing the USA honeybee population by 35% (source: http://www.e360.yale.edu Sonia Shah). That’s concerning considering how important honey bees are for agriculture.
As well as making honey, honey bees pollinate countless hectares of agricultural crops. It’s estimated that a third of the food you eat could be attributed to pollination by bees. The productivity of modern agriculture would be drastically reduced without the humble honey bee. There is a whole industry based around trucking bee hives to crops for pollination duties (http://www.aussiepollination.com.au).
So what’s causing this Colony Collapse Disorder? As with many ecological processes scientists are not sure. The cause is not obvious! Suspects include chemicals such as pesticides, new biological agents, a lack of genetic diversity, or a combination of several factors acting together. In the face of this lack of understanding, diversity in pollinators may be the safest option, it’s like having a spare tyre in your car, a backup.
Like bees perform a service for agriculture, many species perform ecosystem services in nature. For example at the broadest scale, plants make oxygen and lock up carbon dioxide. Imagine if there was only one species of plant, any disease which wipes out that plant would end the production of oxygen.
By having different sorts of species doing similar tasks, the ecosystem develops a resilience to these sorts of threats.
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