Friday, March 30, 2007

To Bee or Not To Bee

“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.” - Albert Einstein
A few days ago, I read an article that raises an alarm about something that must become a top priority for the global community. Our bee populations are under siege and we need to figure out why quickly and reverse the damage or harden the bee population.
Honeybees are vanishing at an alarming rate from 24 US states, threatening the production of numerous crops.

The cause of the losses, which range from 30% to more than 70%, is a mystery, but experts are investigating several theories.

American bee colonies have been hit by regional crises before, but keepers say this is the first national crisis.

Bees pollinate more than $14bn (£7bn) worth of US seeds and crops each year, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts.


Box after box after box are just empty. There's nobody home
David Bradshaw, Beekeeper

The mystery disappearances highlight the important link that honeybees play in the chain that brings fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables.

The crisis threatens numerous crops, from avocados to kiwis and California almonds - one of the most profitable in the US.

"I have never seen anything like it," California beekeeper David Bradshaw, 50, told the New York Times.

"Box after box after box are just empty. There's nobody home."

Under pressure

With an industry increasingly under consolidation, some fear the disorder could prove the breaking point for even large beekeepers.

The bee losses range from 30 to 60% on the West Coast, with some beekeepers on the East Coast and in Texas reporting losses of more than 70%.

Beekeepers consider a loss of up to 20% in the offseason to be normal.

Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

"The real question is why they leave," Jerry Hayes, a bee expert for the Florida Department of Agriculture told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

"Bees are highly social insects. They don't leave their babies and the queen."

The investigators are exploring a range of possibilities to explain the losses, which they are calling "colony collapse disorder". These include viruses, a fungus and poor bee nutrition.

They are also studying pesticides banned in some European countries to see if they are affecting the bees' innate ability to navigate their way back to their hives.

In some cases, bees are being raised to survive a shorter offseason, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. This could have lowered their immunity to viruses.

Mites have also damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill them are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many workers.

Read the entire article. This is a non-trivial issue. Our food supply may be in grave danger if this continues.



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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's happened before, look it up.

Just like most environmental issues, I suggest we get completely paranoid, crazy worried, overreact, and cause more damage trying to intervene and rectify the situation. Than if we would have let it naturally return on it's own.

Man I'm tired of these constant knee-jerk reactions.

Frank Krasicki said...

Yes, it has happened before but not on such a global scale.

It is nice to say let's just ignore symptoms of problems but if Einstein's calculations are correct and we have only four years to solve the problem if it is real, how long do we sit on our hands?

Here's an update;

http://tinyurl.com/27baom

"Historically, bee losses are not unusual. Weather, pesticide exposures and infestations by pests, such as the Varroa mite, have wiped out significant numbers of colonies in the past, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the current loss appears unprecedented. Beekeepers in 28 states, Canada and Britain have reported large losses. About a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million commercial colonies across the United States have been lost since fall, said Jerry Hayes of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville.

"These are remarkable and dramatic losses," said Hayes, who is also president of the Apiary Inspectors of America.

Besides producing honey, commercial beehives are used to pollinate a third of the country's agricultural crops, including apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, strawberries and pumpkins. Ninety percent of California's almond crop is dependent on bees, and a loss of commercial hives could be devastating.

"For the most part, they just disappeared," said Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg, who was among the first to note the losses. "The boxes were full of honey. That was the mysterious thing. Usually other bees will rob those hives out. But nothing had happened."

Researchers now think the foraging bees are too weak to return to their hives.

DeRisi and UCSF's Don Ganem, who normally look for the causes of human diseases, were brought into the bee search by virologist Evan W. Skowronski of the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland.

Dr. Charles Wick of the center had used a new system of genetic analysis to identify pathogens in ground-up bee samples from California. He found several viruses, including members of a recently identified genus called iflaviruses.

It is not known whether these small, RNA-containing viruses, which infect the Varroa mite, are pathogenic to bees.

Skowronski forwarded the samples to DeRisi, who also found evidence of the viruses, along with genetic material from N. ceranae.

"There was a lot of stuff from Nosema, about 25% of the total," Skowronski said. "That meant there was more than there was bee RNA. That leads me to believe that the bee died from that particular pathogen."

If N. ceranae does play a role in Colony Collapse Disorder, there may be some hope for beekeepers.

A closely related parasite called Nosema apis, which also affects bees, can be controlled by the antibiotic fumagillin, and there is some evidence that it will work on N. ceranae as well." By Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II, LA Times Staff Writers

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