Bees are essential to ecosystems around the world, and their pollination services are invaluable to humans. But in recent decades, honey bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate, leading some researchers to investigate the possible causes. A new study indicates that the lifespan of lab-kept honey bees is drastically shorter today than it was in the 1970s—suggesting that genetics may be playing a role in colony losses and dwindling honey production.
The Study’s Findings
In a study published recently, researchers compared longevity data from laboratory honey bees collected between 1975 and 2019. They found that worker bees’ average lifespan had decreased by 50 percent over this time period—from approximately 55 days to 27 days. The scientists also observed a decrease in longevity among queens, though it was not as dramatic; queens lived for an average of 34 days in 1975 compared to 28 days in 2019.
Despite variations due to differences between colonies, weather patterns, and other factors, these results suggest an overall downward trend in lifespans for both worker bees and queens. This could help explain why honey bee colonies are failing more often now than they did several decades ago.
Why Is This Happening?
The study authors point out that most of the decreases in longevity occurred before 2000—at which point Colony Collapse Disorder began decimating bee populations worldwide. This suggests that genetics may be playing a role in colony losses independent of environmental stresses such as disease or pesticide exposure. It is possible that changes within the bees themselves have made them less resilient against environmental threats or caused them to produce fewer offspring over time—which would contribute to lower numbers overall.
However, more research will need to be done before scientists can definitively say what is causing this drop in longevity for individual honey bees and its implications for colony losses at large. Nonetheless, this work provides valuable insight into potential underlying causes for declining bee populations around the world—and offers hope for developing solutions tailored specifically to address genetic issues within bee colonies.
Honey bee life spans are significantly shorter today than they were 50 years ago—a decrease seen even when lab-kept bees are shielded from environmental stressors like disease or pesticide exposure. While further research is needed to pinpoint what exactly is causing this trend, it could provide valuable insight into why honey bee populations have been declining at such a rapid rate over recent decades—and even offer clues on ways we can protect them going forward. If we act quickly enough, perhaps we can reverse these trends and ensure healthy bee populations around the world for generations to come.