Don’t panic. The end is far from nigh.
“There’s absolutely no evidence that Einstein ever said that,” said Michael Pocock, an ecologist with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. “It does sound like the sort of thing he might have said, though.”
But even if the quote is misattributed, is it true?
Dr Pocock is an expert on bees – not honeybees, but bumblebees. It's an important distinction. CCD affects honeybees, but they are just one of more than 240 bee species. And wild bees are not being hit by CCD.
Plus, bees aren’t the only pollinators. Hover flies (which look a lot like bees to the untrained eye, but have only one pair of wings), butterflies, hummingbirds and even bats do it too.
Even if all the pollen-spreading insects did die out, it might lead to mass starvation on an unprecedented and unacceptable scale, but it probably wouldn’t be the end of mankind.
Many plants would survive, though in some cases the quality of their seeds would be lower. Corn, for example, is wind pollinated, while potatoes and carrots can be grown from tubers. Leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, also grow without the need for insects.
Melons, berries and fruits such as apples and pears, on the other hand, could conceivably be in trouble. Unless they get extra human help, that is. In the fruit orchards of southwest China, farmers and their children have to climb into the branches armed with pots of pollen and paintbrushes to individually pollinate each blossom because natural pollinators are rare, said Dr Pocock. This might be an impractical solution in more developed countries, which don’t have enough agricultural workers.
Honeybees do play an important role in mass flowering crops, those, such as blueberries that blossom at exactly the same time each year. If you grow such plants as a monoculture, there won’t be enough food to support wild pollinators year round. The only option then is to truck in honeybee hives, moving them northward with the season.