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  • It's no secret, bees are super important.

  • And it's not just for food sources; bees

  • also keep the health of wild ecosystems in check by pollinating wildflowers, which in

  • turn maintains biodiversity and a thriving terrestrial biomes. And while all bee species

  • are helpful pollinators, honey bees are crucial to our own food supply, pollinating close

  • to 90 commercially grown crops in the U.S.

  • But bee populations have been under extreme stresses, from pesticides to the climate crisis,

  • to parasites and diseases.

  • -We are currently losing between 30% and close to 50% of our honeybee colonies every single

  • year. What would be worse is to add a parasite

  • that we know has a dramatic impact on honey bees.

  • -Unfortunately, that's exactly the situation all bees are facing. This is Dr. Sammy Ramsey,

  • a scientist at the USDA focused on protecting bees from an emerging threat.

  • -The tropilaelaps mite or the tropi mite is a type of mesostigmatid mite. Many of the

  • mesostigmatid are parasites or predators of other organisms.

  • -Tropi mites are reddish brown parasites that measure roughly a millimeter in length. The

  • mites originated in Southeast Asia, and they started off as parasites of the Giant honey

  • bees, which over time developed behavioral responses to remove these pests. But the resourceful

  • tropi mites have now jumped to a new hostthe European honey bee or Apis mellifera,

  • a species that you're all probably familiar with here in the U.S., simply as our honey bees.

  • These honey bees thrive in many other places around the world. Luckily, the tropi

  • mite hasn't reached all those populations yet. And bees in the U.S. are safe for now.

  • But if tropi mites do invade, honey bees are far less equipped to deal with the mite, making

  • them even more vulnerable. Especially since the mites attack the brood, aka bee babies.

  • -The tropi mite will go into the brood cell, and begin feeding on them in pretty much the

  • rudest way possible. They've got like this mouth, but then there's like another mouth

  • inside of their mouth. It's like the alien from Alien. They will bite holes in every

  • section of the bee's body, providing so many entry points for bacteria, for fungi, for

  • viruses, but also breaking down tissue as they go,

  • creating wounds all over the bee's body.

  • -This can result in bees having deformed body parts, reduced longevity, and illnesses like

  • Deformed wing virus.

  • -As you end up with more and more and more sick bees,

  • the colony can then collapse.

  • -Now, these tropi mites aren't just bad news for honey bees. They also present a huge threat

  • to U.S. agriculture, meaning they're a threat to our economy and food security.

  • -We grow crops at levels that are unsustainable for the environment in normal settings. And

  • we bring in the bees to boost the yield, such that we can feed a lot more people on a much

  • smaller amount of land in a much more efficient way.

  • -As much as 75% of the crops we grow rely in part on pollination. So without honey bees'

  • contributions, a lot of the foods we love, like coffee, avocados, and almonds would

  • not be possible to grow at volume, and would therefore be a lot more expensive.

  • -A single colony of honey bees can have 60,000 bees in it, and millions, and millions, and

  • millions of those bees are moved around the United States every year to take them on a

  • pollination tour.

  • -All the crops honey bees pollinate result in more than 15 billion dollars put into our

  • economy every year. And it's not just our agricultural systems that depend on bees...

  • -Honey bees are a staple of terrestrial ecosystems in general, because so many flowering plants

  • maintain important balances within the ecosystems that we know of...

  • -Bees and other pollinators interact with flowering plants. In turn, these plants maintain soil

  • health, and purify water in terrestrial ecosystems like grasses, prairies, and wetlands. And

  • these ecosystems are already threatened by the changing climate. On top of that, tropi

  • mites aren't picky and research shows these mites can spread from species to species.

  • -We have found them in pretty much all of the different subgenera of honey bees that are

  • out there. And that is a huge concern, because its also not just the honey bees where we've found .

  • where we've found them. Research out of India

  • has shown that they can also feed on Carpenter bees.

  • If it were to be the case that we had this parasite transitioning to Carpenter bees,

  • bumble bees, we could end up in a lot of trouble.

  • -There are more than 20,000 bee species globally, of those, 4,000 are native to the U.S. And

  • if they fell victim to these mites, it could cause the collapse of beekeeping systems and

  • devastate many of the world's ecosystems across all continents, except Antarctica.

  • That's why we need to act fast, because the tropi mites have already started to move

  • out of Southeast Asia and are making their way to other parts of the world. So how exactly

  • can we stop these mites?

  • One major win is that scientists have successfully developed

  • a test to identify Tropilaelaps species.

  • But we still don't know a tried and true method to fight the mite.

  • -The more that we know about this organism, the more ways we can find to mitigate the

  • damage that it causes within honeybee colonies, the more ways that we can find to manage populations

  • of this parasite. I've been trying to make sure that I can increase awareness

  • about this organism, such that more people understand the issues that it could cause

  • were it to arrive in the US.

  • -And raising awareness is important in order to highlight the urgency of this issue. This

  • is the first step in getting governments and organizations to fund critical researchlike

  • Dr. Ramsey's—that will help mitigate the agricultural and ecological impact, should

  • these mites arrive in the U.S. So... when exactly will that be?

  • -We really don't know for sure how long it would take for these organisms to get here.

  • It's possible that it could be anything from a matter of years to a matter of decades,

  • or they potentially could never arrive at all.

  • -That would be the best case scenario. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be prepared.

  • And that's why Dr. Ramsey's work with different international institutions to help

  • gather important research is crucial to help ensure we get the most complete picture of

  • this tropi mite, while protecting our food, our economy, and our bee friends.

  • If you're bee crazy, and want to learn more about different species of bees

  • other than the honey bee, make sure to check out the documentary, My Garden of a Thousand

  • Bees, streaming now on Nature on PBS. So what do you think about the tropi mite threat?

  • Let us know down in the comments below. Make sure to subscribe to Seeker, and thanks for

  • watching. I'll see you next time.

It's no secret, bees are super important.

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B2 mite honey bee ramsey threat terrestrial

The Threat to Our Food Supply You Never Knew Existed

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    Summer posted on 2021/10/25
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