What’s giving bees dementia?

Posted at 5:18 PM, Jun 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-06 17:19:03-04

(CNN) — From pesticides to possible cell phone radiation, the causes of bee population decline are an on-going debate.

Now there’s another thing the buzzy little insect has to fear, dementia.

A new study, published on PLoS ONE, says aluminum, “one of the most significant environmental contaminant of recent times,” could be responsible in the pollinators decline.

Aluminum, a widely known ecotoxicant, has already been linked to the elimination of entire fish species due to acid in bodies of water, deforestation due to nutrient deficient soil, and crop production problems due to soil acidity.

Bees typically do not avoid aluminum, which can be found in nectar, so that lead researchers to collect pupae samples from colonies of naturally foraging bees that were then tested for aluminum content. The study lead by Keele University’s Chris Exley and Ellen Rotheray and Dave Goulson of University of Sussex found the pupae were heavily contaminated by aluminum.

Bees have pretty complex brains, and there’s evidence to support that there’s presence of memory, a high-level cognitive function. Although aluminum is considered a neurotoxin, and was initially linked to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, the Alzheimer’s Society in the United Kingdom advises a direct link has not been proven “despite continuing investigation.”

The findings are leaving the researchers to question if high amounts of aluminum induced cognitive-dysfunction are another factor leading to the bees’ demise.

In May, the White House announced new steps to help support and protect the bee population, by supporting a measure that calls for the planting of bee-friendly flowers and plants at federal offices across the country.

The measure came after a task force started an investigation last June looking into why the bee population was in decline. The year-long investigation called for a look into some pesticides and land-use practices that could possibly be harmful and jeopardize bees.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy says the honeybee pollination adds $15 billion in value to crops every year.

The beehive population has dropped at a rapid rate since the 1940s — with honeybee colonies plummeting from 5 million to 2.5 million, according to a recent episode of CNN’s “Inside Man.”

Researchers say there could be many reasons for such a drastic decline — parasites, bacteria, environmental stress — even a lack of pollen.