Bee Colony Disorder – Where is it Heading?

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Agriculture & Food, Environment & Wildlife
by Craig Mackintosh
March 15, 2007

Linked from Celsias Blog

Here is an update to the brief bee story we did a few weeks ago. I’ve been keeping an eye on the Colony Collapse Disorder phenomenon that is causing a lot of furrowed brows in the U.S., as this may well become the biggest issue of 2007.

Things are getting dire on the U.S. agricultural front, and there are similar reports beginning to filter through from countries in Europe.

Disappearing by the billions, on a worker strike we do not know how to negotiate
The sad mystery surrounding the humble honeybee – which is a vital component in $14bn-worth of US agriculture – is beginning to worry even the highest strata of the political class in Washington.

“Hillary Clinton’s got interested in this in the last week or so,” said David Hackenberg, the beekeeper leading the drive to publicise their plight.

“And she’s not alone,” he said. “There’s a lot of Congressmen have called…wanting to know what’s going on. It’s serious. – BBC

There’s still no concrete evidence about what is killing the millions and billions of bees around the country, but there are a lot of guesses.

The phenomenon is recent, dating back to autumn, when beekeepers along the east coast of the US started to notice the die-offs. It was given the name of fall dwindle disease, but now it has been renamed to reflect better its dramatic nature, and is known as colony collapse disorder.

It is swift in its effect. Over the course of a week the majority of the bees in an affected colony will flee the hive and disappear, going off to die elsewhere. The few remaining insects are then found to be enormously diseased – they have a “tremendous pathogen load”, the scientists say. But why? No one yet knows.

… The disease showed a completely new set of symptoms, “which does not seem to match anything in the literature”, said the entomologist.

… the few bees left inside the hive were carrying “a tremendous number of pathogens” – virtually every known bee virus could be detected in the insects, she said, and some bees were carrying five or six viruses at a time, as well as fungal infections. Because of this it was assumed that the bees’ immune systems were being suppressed in some way. – The Independent

There are as many theories as there are members of the panel, but Mr Hackenberg strongly suspects that new breeds of nicotine-based pesticides are to blame.

“It may be that the honeybee has become the victim of these insecticides that are meant for other pests,” he said. “If we don’t figure this out real quick, it’s going to wipe out our food supply.”

Just a few miles down the sunlit road, it is easy to find farmers prepared to agree with his gloomy assessment.

… Dennis van Engelsdorp, a Pennsylvania-based beekeeper and leading researcher… is adamant that it is too early to pin the blame on insecticides.”We have no evidence to think that that theory is more right than any other…” – BBC

Urban sprawl and farming also have taken away fields of clover and wildflowers, as well as nesting trees.

Pesticides and herbicides used in farming and on suburban lawns can weaken or kill bees.

Caron said a new class of pesticides used on plants, called neonicotinoids, don’t kill bees but hamper their sense of direction. That leaves them unable to find their way back to their hives.

… Because these bees aren’t returning to their hives, researchers don’t have a lot of evidence to study.

Those dead bees that have been found nearby have only deepened the mystery.

“They are just dirty with parts and pieces of various diseases,” said Jim Tew, a beekeeping expert with the OSU Extension campus in Wooster. “It looks like a general stress collapse.”

Similar disappearances have occurred over time. Tew said he remembers a similar phenomenon in the 1960s. Then, it was called “disappearing disease.”

“It was exactly the same thing,” he said.

But this one, Caron said, apparently causes hives to collapse at a much quicker rate and is more widespread.

Cobey said it could be from too much of everything: bad weather, chemicals, parasites, viruses.

“If you give them one of these things at a time, they seem to deal with it,” she said. “But all of these things, it’s too hard.

“I think the bees are just compromised. They’re stressed out.” – Columbus Dispatch

Whatever the cause, some farmers are getting desperate, to the point of not bothering to plant their crops.

“The squash crops that we grow have a male and female bloom, and the bee has to visit…to make it pollinate and produce,” he said.

“We’re going to have a hard time finding rental bees to aid in this pollination and if it’s as critical as it looks like it will be, I probably won’t even plant anything this spring.” – BBC

Huge monocrop farming systems and specialisations, and the spread of suburbia across natural habitat, are removing natural diversity. Bees have been lumped together in the millions, in a factory farm type environment not so unlike that of our chickens and other livestock animals. Many of these bees are transported across several states to perform pollinations in orchards and farms around the country. Today they are in contact with substances they shouldn’t have to deal with – pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and pollen from genetically modified crops. Researchers are scrambling to find answers, and as the spring season is upon us, time is running out.

Honey bees, which are not native to the U.S. incidentally (they were imported for crop pollination), are tasked with the pollination of approximately one third of all U.S. crops.

… scientists are very worried, not least because, as there is no obvious cause for the disease as yet, there is no way of tackling it. – The Independent

If some of our readers have more light to shed on this topic, please send it through.

Update: European Bees also taking Nosedive – Perhaps GM Crops?

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