Beekeepers across the world are reporting dramatically falling numbers and scientists are urgently trying to find the cause of bee decline. The trend has been happening since the 1990s and has been closely monitored through honeybee colonies inhabiting hives.
Bees are hugely important to our existence because they not only supply honey but also pollenate crops. About 1/3 of all the food that humans eat depends on the pollination services of insects with around four thousand different varieties of veg depending on it in Europe alone.
Research has recently discovered high levels of aluminium contamination in bees. This has raised the question as to whether it is responsible for cognitive disruption within these insects.
Aluminium has resulted in other species being damaged and is one of Earths most common ecotoxicants. It has been responsible for the decline of fish, forests and crops through acidified soil and water.
The research has been conducted by Professors, Dave Goulson of University of Sussex, and Chris Exley from Keele University.
When bees forage for nectar, they don’t avoid it if it has aluminium in it, which prompted the professors explore whether the bees build the levels of aluminium over their lives. The research process involved the collection of pupae that was then tested for aluminium at Keele.
It was discovered that the pupae was significantly contaminated with aluminium with the smaller samples containing much higher levels. The levels found were the equivalent to 5-70 times the level of contamination that would be considered damaging to human brain tissue.
Early results show that aluminium accumulation exists through one stage of the lifecycle and also points towards another factor contributing to the bumblebee decline. It has long been understood that aluminium is a neurotoxin in animals and whilst the decline of other support structures like flowers is an undoubted factor it is thought that cognitive dysfunction caused by aluminium is a significant cause of bee decline too.