Research Links Previous Bee Extinction With End of Dinosaurs; What Does This Mean For Humans?

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Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has had environmentalist, beekeeping enthusiasts, and farmers concerned about the future of farming, and, well, food since 2006.

Pollinators, including bees, are integral component to the health of our ecosystems; without them, much of the foods we eat have no way of reproducing.

Almonds, apples, plums, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, and a variety of other fruits rely on insects to cross-fertilize.

For the first time, a recently published study linked an across the board extinction of bees with the event that killed off the dinosaurs.

Given our current state of bee affairs, does this mean the preppers and dooms-dayers on are onto something?

We spoke to Dr. Leo Gosser, founder of the Broward Beekpeers Association, to find out.

See Also: Buzz Is On for Broward's Only Community Apiary

According to the study, performed by researchers at the University of New Hampshire, found an extinction of bees that arose 65 million years ago, coinciding with the event that annihilated land dinosaurs and many flowering plants.

According to UNH, "Lead author Sandra Rehan, an assistant professor of biological sciences at UNH, worked with colleagues Michael Schwarz at Australia's Flinders University and Remko Leys at the South Australia Museum to model a mass extinction in bee group Xylocopinae, or carpenter bees, at the end of the Cretaceous and beginning of the Paleogene eras, known as the K-T boundary."

Other studies have implied an extinction of many species of flowering plants at the K-T boundary, and many assumptions have been made about the possible demise of bees during that period; however, there is not much fossil record of bees to analyze.

Rehan and colleagues used a technique called molecular phylogenetics to overcome the lack of fossil evidence for apidae. Together, the group studied DNA sequences for four tribes of 230 carpenter bee species from every continent, with the exception of Antarctica, to understand the evolutionary relationships; through their research, the team began to find patterns that would indicated a mass extinction occurred. Fossil records with DNA analysis were used to evaluate time.

"The data told us something major was happening in four different groups of bees at the same time," said Rehan. "And it happened to be the same time as the dinosaurs went extinct."

While the correlation is rather alarming given our current decline in worldwide bee populations, Gosser, a beekeeper and former chemist in the pharmaceutical industry doesn't think it's time to start stocking up on canned goods just yet.

"It is totally logical that something dramatic happened to the bees at about the same time as the dinosaurs went extinct," said Gosser. "It is also totally logical that something dramatic happened to every single species in existence at the time. Whether you believe that it was a cataclysmic event that took place or simply a radical environmental change, what affected the dinosaurs probably affected every living plant and creature that existed then."

According to Gosser, part of his skepticism is due to the theory of molecular phylogenetics, which he considers debatable.

This study simply uses a scientific theory of molecular phylogenetics to prove that point for a specific species (i.e. bees)...It is a relatively new and untested theory, but it does make for good publications. After all, publications are what justifies much of the research that is conducted by the world of academics. As the saying goes "publish or perish". The more publications you can turn out, the more likely you are to continue to get funding. Having published a few articles myself, I know from whence I speak.

While Gosser is doing everything within his power to support local bee populations, he thinks the problem stems from man-made problems.

"We have to learn how to better manage our natural resources," he said.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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