Leading article: Great and small

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The Independent Online

Science seems to have come a step closer to solving the mystery of the vanishing bees. Researchers in the United States argue that a little-known virus, IAPV, is likely to be at least partly responsible for the collapse in bee colonies.

It is interesting how much coverage this environmental story has generated. It would be nice to believe that this is because of an explosion of concern over the plight of these charismatic insects. But a more realistic explanation is that it is because the decline of the bumblebee threatens severe economic consequences. Bees are required to pollinate nearly 100 crops in the US, ranging from apples to melons. The US Secretary of Agriculture has estimated that if the collapse continues, the US economy could lose billions of dollars.

There is a stark lesson here about mankind's interdependence with the natural world and our responsibility to live in harmony with it. We should value diversity in the natural world for its own sake. But we should understand how dependent we are on it too.

The Independent makes no apology for drawing public attention to the plight of all threatened wildlife, no matter how small or apparently insignificant the creatures involved. Often when one species comes under threat, it is a warning that others further up the food chain, including humans, may soon suffer too.

Now that scientists seem to have identified a significant factor behind the collapse of bee populations, the chances of it being reversed have improved. But this episode should be a warning that we disregard the integration of our eco-systems at our peril. Small is not only beautiful, it matters too.