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istock photgraphy / Frankljunior
The insect that has a role in so many aspects of our food supply has only half the population it did in the 1940s.
During his lectures, University of Georgia entomology professor Keith Delaplane often pretends to hold up a McDonald’s hamburger.
“Now I’m going to take away every ingredient that a bee has pollinated,” he tells his students, flicking away each imaginary item, one by one. First to go is the hamburger, which comes from alfalfa-and-clover-eating cattle. Next comes the cheese, for the same reason, then the tomato, the ketchup, the pickle and the dill that flavored it, and the lettuce. Finally, he says to the audience: “You’re left with nothing but the bun – minus the sesame seeds.”
As national director of the Managed Pollinator Coordinated Agriculture Project, Delaplane recently finished leading a four-year consortium of scientists charged with finding out what has caused the U.S. honeybee population to dwindle and what can be done to reverse the decline. The problem surfaced in 2006, when, according to Delaplane, “We just sort of reached a tipping point where we started really noticing things.”