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  • This is our life with bees,

  • and this is our life without bees.

  • Bees are the most important pollinators

  • of our fruits and vegetables and flowers

  • and crops like alfalfa hay that feed our farm animals.

  • More than one third of the world's crop production

  • is dependent on bee pollination.

  • But the ironic thing is that bees are not out there

  • pollinating our food intentionally.

  • They're out there because they need to eat.

  • Bees get all of the protein they need in their diet

  • from pollen

  • and all of the carbohydrates they need from nectar.

  • They're flower-feeders,

  • and as they move from flower to flower,

  • basically on a shopping trip at the local floral mart,

  • they end up providing this valuable pollination service.

  • In parts of the world where there are no bees,

  • or where they plant varieties that are not attractive to bees,

  • people are paid to do the business of pollination by hand.

  • These people are moving pollen from flower to flower

  • with a paintbrush.

  • Now this business of hand pollination

  • is actually not that uncommon.

  • Tomato growers often pollinate their tomato flowers

  • with a hand-held vibrator.

  • Now this one's the tomato tickler. (Laughter)

  • Now this is because the pollen within a tomato flower

  • is held very securely within

  • the male part of the flower, the anther,

  • and the only way to release this pollen is to vibrate it.

  • So bumblebees are one of the few kinds of bees in the world

  • that are able to hold onto the flower and vibrate it,

  • and they do this by shaking their flight muscles

  • at a frequency similar to the musical note C.

  • So they vibrate the flower, they sonicate it,

  • and that releases the pollen in this efficient swoosh,

  • and the pollen gathers all over the fuzzy bee's body,

  • and she takes it home as food.

  • Tomato growers now put bumblebee colonies

  • inside the greenhouse to pollinate the tomatoes

  • because they get much more efficient pollination

  • when it's done naturally

  • and they get better quality tomatoes.

  • So there's other, maybe more personal reasons,

  • to care about bees.

  • There's over 20,000 species of bees in the world,

  • and they're absolutely gorgeous.

  • These bees spend the majority of their life cycle

  • hidden in the ground or within a hollow stem

  • and very few of these beautiful species

  • have evolved highly social behavior like honeybees.

  • Now honeybees tend to be the charismatic representative

  • for the other 19,900-plus species

  • because there's something about honeybees

  • that draws people into their world.

  • Humans have been drawn to honeybees

  • since early recorded history,

  • mostly to harvest their honey,

  • which is an amazing natural sweetener.

  • I got drawn into the honeybee world

  • completely by a fluke.

  • I was 18 years old and bored,

  • and I picked up a book in the library on bees

  • and I spent the night reading it.

  • I had never thought about insects

  • living in complex societies.

  • It was like the best of science fiction come true.

  • And even stranger, there were these people,

  • these beekeepers, that loved their bees like they were family,

  • and when I put down the book, I knew I had to see this for myself.

  • So I went to work for a commercial beekeeper,

  • a family that owned 2,000 hives of bees in New Mexico.

  • And I was permanently hooked.

  • Honeybees can be considered a super-organism,

  • where the colony is the organism

  • and it's comprised of 40,000 to 50,000

  • individual bee organisms.

  • Now this society has no central authority.

  • Nobody's in charge.

  • So how they come to collective decisions,

  • and how they allocate their tasks and divide their labor,

  • how they communicate where the flowers are,

  • all of their collective social behaviors are mindblowing.

  • My personal favorite, and one that I've studied for many years,

  • is their system of healthcare.

  • So bees have social healthcare.

  • So in my lab, we study how bees keep themselves healthy.

  • For example, we study hygiene,

  • where some bees are able to locate and weed out

  • sick individuals from the nest, from the colony,

  • and it keeps the colony healthy.

  • And more recently, we've been studying resins

  • that bees collect from plants.

  • So bees fly to some plants and they scrape

  • these very, very sticky resins off the leaves,

  • and they take them back to the nest

  • where they cement them into the nest architecture

  • where we call it propolis.

  • We've found that propolis is a natural disinfectant.

  • It's a natural antibiotic.

  • It kills off bacteria and molds and other germs

  • within the colony,

  • and so it bolsters the colony health and their social immunity.

  • Humans have known about the power of propolis

  • since biblical times.

  • We've been harvesting propolis out of bee colonies

  • for human medicine,

  • but we didn't know how good it was for the bees.

  • So honeybees have these remarkable natural defenses

  • that have kept them healthy and thriving

  • for over 50 million years.

  • So seven years ago, when honeybee colonies

  • were reported to be dying en masse,

  • first in the United States,

  • it was clear that there was something really, really wrong.

  • In our collective conscience, in a really primal way,

  • we know we can't afford to lose bees.

  • So what's going on?

  • Bees are dying from multiple and interacting causes,

  • and I'll go through each of these.

  • The bottom line is,

  • bees dying reflects a flowerless landscape

  • and a dysfunctional food system.

  • Now we have the best data on honeybees,

  • so I'll use them as an example.

  • In the United States, bees in fact have been

  • in decline since World War II.

  • We have half the number of managed hives

  • in the United States now compared to 1945.

  • We're down to about two million hives of bees, we think.

  • And the reason is, after World War II,

  • we changed our farming practices.

  • We stopped planting cover crops.

  • We stopped planting clover and alfalfa,

  • which are natural fertilizers that fix nitrogen in the soil,

  • and instead we started using synthetic fertilizers.

  • Clover and alfalfa are highly nutritious food plants for bees.

  • And after World War II, we started using herbicides

  • to kill off the weeds in our farms.

  • Many of these weeds are flowering plants

  • that bees require for their survival.

  • And we started growing larger and larger crop monocultures.

  • Now we talk about food deserts,

  • places in our cities, neighborhoods that have no grocery stores.

  • The very farms that used to sustain bees

  • are now agricultural food deserts,

  • dominated by one or two plant species

  • like corn and soybeans.

  • Since World War II, we have been systematically

  • eliminating many of the flowering plants

  • that bees need for their survival.

  • And these monocultures extend even to crops

  • that are good for bees, like almonds.

  • Fifty years ago, beekeepers would take a few colonies,

  • hives of bees into the almond orchards, for pollination,

  • and also because the pollen in an almond blossom

  • is really high in protein. It's really good for bees.

  • Now, the scale of almond monoculture

  • demands that most of our nation's bees,

  • over 1.5 million hives of bees,

  • be transported across the nation

  • to pollinate this one crop.

  • And they're trucked in in semi-loads,

  • and they must be trucked out,

  • because after bloom, the almond orchards

  • are a vast and flowerless landscape.

  • Bees have been dying over the last 50 years,

  • and we're planting more crops that need them.

  • There has been a 300 percent increase in crop production

  • that requires bee pollination.

  • And then there's pesticides.

  • After World War II, we started using pesticides

  • on a large scale, and this became necessary

  • because of the monocultures that put out a feast

  • for crop pests.

  • Recently, researchers from Penn State University

  • have started looking at the pesticide residue

  • in the loads of pollen that bees carry home as food,

  • and they've found that every batch of pollen

  • that a honeybee collects

  • has at least six detectable pesticides in it,

  • and this includes every class of insecticides,

  • herbicides, fungicides,

  • and even inert and unlabeled ingredients

  • that are part of the pesticide formulation

  • that can be more toxic than the active ingredient.

  • This small bee is holding up a large mirror.

  • How much is it going to take to contaminate humans?

  • One of these class of insecticides,

  • the neonicontinoids,

  • is making headlines around the world right now.

  • You've probably heard about it.

  • This is a new class of insecticides.

  • It moves through the plant so that a crop pest,

  • a leaf-eating insect,

  • would take a bite of the plant

  • and get a lethal dose and die.

  • If one of these neonics, we call them,

  • is applied in a high concentration,

  • such as in this ground application,

  • enough of the compound moves through the plant

  • and gets into the pollen and the nectar,

  • where a bee can consume, in this case,

  • a high dose of this neurotoxin

  • that makes the bee twitch and die.

  • In most agricultural settings, on most of our farms,

  • it's only the seed that's coated with the insecticide,

  • and so a smaller concentration moves through the plant

  • and gets into the pollen and nectar,

  • and if a bee consumes this lower dose,

  • either nothing happens

  • or the bee becomes intoxicated and disoriented

  • and she may not find her way home.

  • And on top of everything else, bees have

  • their own set of diseases and parasites.

  • Public enemy number one for bees is this thing.

  • It's called varroa destructor.

  • It's aptly named.

  • It's this big, blood-sucking parasite

  • that compromises the bee's immune system

  • and circulates viruses.

  • Let me put this all together for you.

  • I don't know what it feels like to a bee

  • to have a big, bloodsucking parasite running around on it,

  • and I don't know what it feels like to a bee to have a virus,

  • but I do know what it feels like when I have a virus, the flu,

  • and I know how difficult it is for me to get

  • to the grocery store to get good nutrition.

  • But what if I lived in a food desert?

  • And what if I had to travel a long distance

  • to get to the grocery store,

  • and I finally got my weak body out there

  • and I consumed, in my food,

  • enough of a pesticide, a neurotoxin,

  • that I couldn't find my way home?

  • And this is what we mean by multiple

  • and interacting causes of death.

  • And it's not just our honeybees.

  • All of our beautiful wild species of bees

  • are at risk, including those tomato-pollinating bumblebees.

  • These bees are providing backup for our honeybees.

  • They're providing the pollination insurance

  • alongside our honeybees.

  • We need all of our bees.

  • So what are we going to do?

  • What are we going to do about this big bee bummer

  • that we've created?

  • It turns out, it's hopeful. It's hopeful.

  • Every one of you out there can help bees

  • in two very direct and easy ways.

  • Plant bee-friendly flowers,

  • and don't contaminate these flowers,