Sunspots caused by solar storms have been directly linked to impacts on bee colonies and populations.
In 2006, scientists and farmers began noticing a disturbing trend: swarms of honey bees were moving away from their hives and not returning. This phenomenon was referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which had significant implications for beekeepers and farmers who depended on the insects for a livelihood.
Researchers initially blamed pesticides, parasites, pollution, and a host of other conditions, but new evidence suggests that sunspots may have been responsible all along.
The study, published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, suggests that magnetic field fluctuations caused by solar storms may disrupt the bees’ magnetoreceptors. These receptors enable the adult honey bees to locate their hives; interference with these systems would contribute to the disappearance of honey bees, causing colony failure.
According to Norman Carreck, scientific director of the International Bee Research Association, “For humans, the impact of sunspots on magnetic fields and their effects on bees is a difficult concept to grasp. Perhaps we could liken it to humans, who rely on sight, becoming lost in fog when we have no visual clues to help us identify our location. In unfamiliar territory, any landmarks would be harder to recognize, so we find it harder to work out where we are.”
Magnetoreception, or the ability to locate positions and routes, is found among bees, birds, and fish. These organisms use the Earth’s magnetic field to help them find their way home. Disturbances in these magnetic fields could vastly interfere with directional positioning.
Scientists conducted experiments in which bees were subjected to magnetic field disturbances, then observed as to whether the bees could find their way home. Bees who had been subjected to these disturbances were less able to calculate positioning and return to the hive.
While magnetoreception in bees was well known, the impact of its disruption had never been carefully studied before this research was published.