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[Byline: Larry O'Hanlon]Something is wiping out honey bees across North America, and a team of researchers is rushing to find out what it is. What is being called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has now been seen in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and way out in California. Some bee keepers have lost up to 80 percent of their colonies to the mysterious disorder.
Those are quite scary numbers," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's lead apiarist. Whatever kills the bees targets adult workers, which die outside the colony, with few adults left inside, either alive or dead. The disorder decimates the worker bee population in a matter of weeks.
Aside from making honey, honey bees are essential for the pollination of tens of million of dollars worth of cash crops all over the United States. That's why almond growers of California, for instance, are taking notice and pledging funds to help identify and fight the honey bee disorder.
Among the possible culprits are a fungus, virus, or a variety of microbes and pesticides. No one knows just yet. On 1st inspection, the pattern of die-offs resembles something that has been seen in more isolated cases in Louisiana, Texas and Australia, vanEngelsdorp said. "Right now, our efforts are on collecting as many samples as possible," said vanEngelsdorp. Bees that are collected are carefully dissected and analyzed to see what might have killed them.
Other researchers are keeping track of the problem using Google Earth as well as cutting-edge hive-sniffing and eavesdropping technology to investigate the problem. "We're trying to sort out the myriad of variables," said Jerry Bromenshank of the University of Montana and Bee Alert Technology, Inc. "We've sent teams to Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California. The scenario was about exactly the same everywhere we looked."
The locations of the bees are put on a global database to see whether there is any geographic pattern. Bromenshank also uses a groundbreaking audio analysis technique that allows hearing specific changes in bee colony sounds when specific chemicals are present. Chemical air sampling in hives is also being planned, he said.
Just how bad the bee problem is right now is unknown, since the 1st cases came at the end of 2006, and many colonies in northern states are not active yet. As spring awakens honey bee colonies, it will be vital for beekeepers to send information to the scientists, regardless of how well or poorly their bee colonies are faring, said Bromenshank. For that purpose the scientists have put together a confidential beekeeper survey on their website <maarec.org/>.
"Beekeepers over-wintering in the north may not know the status of their colonies until they are able to make early spring inspections," said Maryann Frazier, apiculture extension associate in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "This should occur in late February or early March . Regardless, there is little doubt that honey bees are going to be in short supply this spring and possibly into the summer."
Discovery Channel articleOct. 18, 2006 — This is a story about the birds and the bees and reproduction. No, not that story. It's about plants. Most plants need to be pollinated by birds, bees, bats and other animals and insects to reproduce. And scientists say a decline in pollinators may spell trouble for crops. Honeybees and bumblebees have been infected by the introduction of a parasite, while destruction of cave roosts has led to a decline in the bat population, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Research Council.
Other pollinator declines may also be associated with habitat loss but more research is needed to make sure, according to the council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. More detailed research has been done in Europe, where declines and even extinctions of pollinators have been documented. The report pointed out that in order to bear fruit, three-quarters of all flowering plants — including most food crops and some that provide fiber, drugs, and fuel — rely on pollinators for fertilization.
Farmers often lease colonies of bees to ensure pollination. Yet honeybees, which pollinate more than 90 commercially grown crops, are one of the most affected pollinators. Indeed, honeybees had to be imported from outside North America last year for the first time since 1922, the report said. The report urged the Agriculture Department to increase research into pest management and bee breeding practices. In addition, long-term studies must be done on the populations of wild bee species and some butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, it said.
The United States should collaborate with Canada and Mexico to form a network of long-term monitoring projects, the council recommended. Landowners, meanwhile, can take simple steps to make habitats more "pollinator friendly," for instance by growing native plants, the report suggested. The research was funded by the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey, National Academies and the Research Council's Division on Earth and Life Studies. The study was requested by The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, representing agencies and organizations in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
New Scientist articleMystery illness devastates honeybee colonies
A mysterious illness is devastating honeybee populations across the US from California to Florida, claiming up to 80% of colonies in some areas. The losses of honeybees could disrupt the pollination of food crops, researchers warn. Beekeepers are finding once-healthy colonies abandoned just a few days later, says Jerry Bromenshank, at the University of Montana at Missoula and Bee Alert Technology, a company monitoring the problem: “In most cases the only one left is the queen, along with a few young bees.” The absence of dead bees makes it difficult to know what ails them and where they have gone.
Furthermore, experts cannot track the spread of the mysterious illness. “The problem is that it strikes out of the blue,” says Bromenshank. At a loss for an explanation, researchers have referred to the honeybee decline as “colony collapse disorder”. Reports of the problem have intensified in recent weeks and spanned 22 states, but some beekeepers say that they began seeing their colonies decline almost two years ago.
Almonds and apples: Researchers say colony collapse disorder might be a re-emergence of a similarly mysterious illness that struck US honeybees in the 1960s. Experts never pinpointed the cause behind that previous bee crisis, according to Bromenshank. He notes that in light of this some people have jokingly termed the problem the “disappearing-disappearing illness”. But beekeepers and farmers see no humour in the potential economic costs of drastic honeybee decline. Almond crops are immediately vulnerable because they rely on honeybee pollination at this time of year. And the insect decline could potentially affect other crops later in the year, such as apples and blueberries.
Bromenshank speculates that dry conditions in the autumn reduced the natural food supply of the honeybees, making them more vulnerable to some sort of virus – such as deformed wing virus – or fungal infection. He notes that the abandoned colonies are not repopulated by other honeybees or insects for at least a few weeks. This, he says, is consistent with the presence of toxic fungal residues from the dying bees that repel other insects from re-inhabiting the colony. Other scientists have tentatively blamed the problem on pesticides or chemicals specifically designed to control mites in bee colonies.
TheDude wrote:An aside - I remember reading a story which mentioned Native American bees. Researching this a bit, I see that only about 7 species and 44 subspecies are used for beekeeping - out of approximately 20,000 total. Wonder how the wild bees are holding up? Or is the close proximity of bees in hives responsible for this malaise - a lemming-like behavior? When you "smoke" a hive the bees become quite docile - during a forest fire the idea is to get away, not be hostile to predation - an evolutionary adaptation. Perhaps the bees have evolved to suffer the occasional self-inflicted plague. Let's hope they recover though, without them we're really screwed.
With the accelerating decline of native bees, honeybees are becoming ever more critical to farmers. American agriculture is addicted to honeybees -- and in the past few years has begun to run short of them.
deMolay wrote:This seemed like a small story until I started to think about it some. This situation if it continues could bring on immediate worldwide starvation. The Beemen of the northern states and Canada have not yet opened their hives because of the weather. If the devestation has also reached all the way north, prepare for the worst. Because apparently Spain and Poland have found the same problem. Spain has the bulk of all honey bees in the EU. This could come on faster and spread as much devestation as peak oil. Maybe even worse. With peak oil and an intact eco system you could still harvest by hand and survive this may mean that will not be an option. The USA and Canada are the breadbasket of the world. The implications are huge.
mommy22 wrote:I know this won't help entire fields of crops, but perhaps for a small backyard garden this may help if your areas are being affected in this way. Like I said, this won't solve the problem, but it may mean the difference between a couple of tomatoes and a regular crop. I notice in my kitchen garden evry year many hummingbirds who appear to be pollinating my tomatoes and other flowering edibles. Does anyone know about hummingbirds and pollination? I plan on adding extra hummingbird feeders if they help in the gardeing process.
Zardoz wrote:Peak bees. Gimme a God-damned break. This really is getting to be like the biblical plagues of Egypt. We're so screwed.
As far back as 2005, Haefeker ended an article he contributed to the journal Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report) with an Albert Einstein quote: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
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