Researchers believe that they have found a probable cause of the sharp decline in honeybee populations – aluminum pollution. They also discovered that aluminum may trigger Alzheimer’s disease in bumblebees.
Last year, bee populations across the U.S. experienced colony losses of more than 42 percent with no apparent reason. And for the first time in recorded history, summer deaths were higher than winter deaths. Oklahoma beekeepers reported that they had a 63 percent annual loss of beehives, while Hawaii reported that lowest death rate with only 14 percent.
Researchers have yet to find a definite cause for the mysterious die-offs though they suspect pesticide use, lack of flowers due to intensive farming or parasitic attacks.
But scientists from Keele University and the University of Sussex in the UK recently came to the conclusion that high amounts of aluminum found in the environment may have something to do with it. They also detected debilitating cognitive dysfunctions probably caused by contamination with the material in bumblebee colonies.
In other words, bumblebees displayed same symptoms a human patient struck by Alzheimer’s does. Biologists explained that aluminum is a neurotoxin that affects the behavior of both humans and animals. Aluminum intoxication may lead to a decline in bees’ cognitive function upon which they heavily rely to carry on their daily tasks and keep colony safe, the research team argued.
Researchers assessed aluminum levels in pupae from bumblebee colonies. They learned that some pupae’s aluminum levels hit 200 ppm. To have a clear picture on the situation, about 3ppm of aluminum is considered “pathological” to any human “with possible contributions towards neurodegenerative disease including Alzheimer’s disease.”
“[…] these data raise the intriguing specter that aluminum-induced cognitive dysfunction may play a role in their population decline: are we looking at bees with Alzheimer’s disease?,”
asked Keele’s Chris Exley, one of the researchers involved in the bumblebee study.
Exely, who is specialized in the effects aluminum may have on human behavior, noted that aluminum pollution has various origins – from burning of fossil fuels which results in acid rains and acidification of soil from reckless agriculture to the mining of aluminum ore and production of a variety of aluminum-based products.
Past research had found that aluminum intoxication might be responsible of major die-offs of fish in acid waters and low crop yields in acid soils. Past studies had also shown that honeybees get intoxicated with aluminum when foraging for nectar, while a Brazilian study showed high levels of aluminum in pollen as well.
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