bee, bees
Dr. Scott M. Lieberman/AP
A bee is seen collecting nectar from a
Lantana bush in Tyler, Texas, on
Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009.

Bee Population Suffers Another Blow

March 24, 2010 05:30 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A federal survey found that bees are threatened more than ever after a winter of severe die-off, having serious implications for the human food supply.

Honeybee Crisis Deepens

It was alarming enough in October 2006 when beekeepers discovered that a significant percentage of their honeybees had disappeared. But “[t]his year bees seem to be in bigger trouble than normal after a bad winter,” an informal survey of commercial bee brokers published in a USDA report found, according to the Associated Press.

One-third of the bee brokers surveyed had a hard time gathering enough hives to pollinate California’s nut trees. Zac Browning, a beekeeper who shipped his hives from Idaho to California to pollinate the almond trees there, was shocked to find that hundreds of his hives had been abandoned. “The losses were extreme, three times higher than the previous year,” AP reports.

“It wasn’t one load or two loads, but every load we were pulling out that was dead,” Browning told AP. “It got extremely depressing to see a third of my livestock gone.”

The die-off is especially alarming because bees are so essential to the human food supply. Insect pollination supports one-third of human crop growth, and of this number, honeybees are responsible for 80 percent.

Opinion & Analysis: What’s causing bees to die?

In a study published in July 2009, simultaneous infection with multiple viruses was blamed for the mysterious death of bee colonies. Entomologist May Berenbaum and a group of scientists identified differences in the genetic material found in the guts of bees from colonies affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and those not affected. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Berenbaum and her colleagues found that the bees from CCD-affected hives had genetic damage that they thought was caused not by pesticides, as has often been blamed for CCD, but potentially by infection with multiple viruses at one time.

A 2009 documentary, “Vanishing of the Bees,” pointed to certain pesticides as the root cause of CCD, however. The film charged that neonicotinoid pesticides, much of which are produced by the German firm Bayer, is responsible for weakening the bees and making them susceptible to other diseases.

Though no one has been able to pinpoint an exact cause for CCD, “it’s the pesticides that are attracting scrutiny now,” AP reported. A new study published in PLoS One, a scientific journal, found that nearly 60 percent of wax and pollen samples taken from 23 states and one Canadian province “contained at least one systemic pesticide.” 

“The pollen is not in good shape,” Chris Mullin of Penn State University and lead author of the study, told AP. Although he said that none of the chemicals alone were enough to kill the bees, the variety and combination of them is “worrisome.”

Related Topic: England works to save bees

After a December 2008 E.U. measure was launched to establish safe zones for bees, Britain launched its own plan to monitor honeybees and revive the population. The 10-year initiative is to help amateur beekeepers protect bees from pesticides and fungi. It asks that beekeepers register with BeeBase and report information on the status of bee health.

Reference: Colony Collapse Disorder

Agricultural Research Service, a research division of the United States Department of Agriculture, offers information on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and what is being done to find the causes of the disorder and help beekeepers respond to the dilemma.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines