Honeybee Populations Continue Mysterious Declines
Honeybee populations in the USA, indeed all of North America, is and has been undergoing a devastating collapse for sometime now. Honeybees are flying off in search of pollen & nectar then simply never returning to their hives. Have they all been kidnapped by alien beekeepers or is something more tragic & frightening occurring with these necessary pollinators in our ecosystem?
During the final quarter of 2006, a distressing number of honeybee colonies diminished from the United States. Beekeepers all over the nation reported unprecedented losses. According to scientists, domesticated honeybee populations declined by approximately 50% in the last 50 years.
Reports of similar losses to the honeybee population have been documented before in beekeeping literature, but were widely believed to have occurred at this scale previously only at a regional level. With outbreaks recorded as far back as 1896, this is regarded as the first national and now known top be hemispheric as wella s global honeybee epidemic in history.
This phenomenon, is now called the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD is not well understood nor even accepted b globally but the physical evidence is certainly present. The very existence of the CCD remains in dispute as well as a mystery. What cannot be denied is that a shortage of honeybees in the North America has affected cropowners from Mexico to Canada, including the USA.
"There are shortages [like this] that pop up from time to time," said Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at Princeton University. "Whether there are more [shortages] than there were 20 years ago, one would guess yes, as there are fewer bees to go around, but it's not well documented."
Subsequent investigations suggest these outbreaks of unexplained colony collapse were experienced by beekeepers for at least the last 5 years. Are the honeybees dying in the fields they pollinate or do they simply become too exhausted & disoriented to find their way back home?
Honeybees: The Invisible Link To Abundant Food Supplies
Whatever the reason, why should we care so much? Why should it matter at all to Americans? The answers to these 2 questions is actually very simple. Without the bees pollinating the crops as they gather pollen & nectar, the plants will not produce edible crops. Less crops means less food and higher prices for what food does exist. In this current economic recession we must be alarmed about everything that further places a burden on an overloaded economy.
When entire bee populations seem to disappear or die out in alarming numbers, the ramifications can be astounding. Bee pollination, which most farmers depend on, is responsible for as much as 30% of the U.S. food supply.
"Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food," said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation.
A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States. These include such diverse food sources as almond blossoms, pumpkins, cucumbers, raspberries, avocados, and alfalfa. Unless something is done to protect the honeybee population soon, many fruits and vegetables may disappear from the food chain.
"The sudden and unexplained loss of honeybee populations is an early warning sign for coming disruptions in modern agriculture," explained Mike Adams, executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center non-profit group (www.ConsumerWellness.org). "If we continue to lose honeybees at this rate, we may find ourselves in a dire food supply emergency that will not be easily solved," Adams said.
"During the last three months of 2006, we began to receive reports from commercial beekeepers of an alarming number of honey bee colonies dying in the eastern United States," said Maryann Frazier, a senior extension associate in the Department of Entomology at Pennsylvania State University's College of Agricultural Sciences.
"Since the beginning of the year, beekeepers from all over the country have been reporting unprecedented losses. This has become a highly significant yet poorly understood problem that threatens the pollination industry and the production of commercial honey in the United States," she said.
Honeybees killed By Synthetic Chemicals
Scientists, for now, have primarily attributed the honeybee decline to diseases spread as a result of mites and other parasites as well as the spraying of crops with pesticides. It may also result from the treatment of forests, rangelands and even suburban areas to control a wide variety of pests.
"There is no question that the extremely irresponsible use of synthetic chemicals in modern farming practices is significantly contributing to this devastating drop in honeybee populations," said Mike Adams. "The more chemicals we spray on the crops, the more poisoned the pollinators become. And the fact that honeybees are now simply disappearing in huge numbers is a strong indicator that a key chemical burden threshold has been crossed. We may have unwittingly unleashed an agricultural Chernobyl."
In order to deal with this devastation, a newly formed CCD working group has been organized in hope of finding a solution to the dwindling honeybee population. According to the CCD mandate, the group will explore "the cause or causes of honeybee colony collapse and finding appropriate strategies to reduce colony loss in the future."
Comprised of university faculty researchers, state regulatory officials, cooperative extension educators and industry representatives, the working group hopes to develop management strategies and recommendations for this epidemic. Participating organizations include the USDA/ARS, the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania State University, and Bee Alert, Inc., a technology transfer company affiliated with the University of Montana.
Research involving the value of honeybees to agriculture could be beneficial to both the beekeeper as well as the grower.
The knowledge formed from such research maximizes the likelihood of finding answers that will aid beekeepers in promoting good health for honeybees within the pollination industry. It should also keep the grower well informed about the process of pollination and the relative damage of different pesticides to honeybee populations.
A detailed, up-to-date report on Colony Collapse Disorder can be found on the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium Web site at http://www.maarec.org
Pesticide Links To Bee Populations
Pesticides, specifically neonicotinioid pesticides, including imidacloprid, clothianiden & thiamethoxam, poison the bee during its daily activity process of collecting pollen & nectar. Such poisoning occurs when the material is ingested as well asÂ after it has been transported to the hive where it poisons other bees in the hive.
According to a recent report, "Pesticides in Relation to BeeKeeping and Crop Pollination" states that 'even organic insecticides, the chlorinated hydrocarbons, organophosphates & carbamates vary in their toxicity and are not recommended.'
Pesticides can & do kill & damage wild bees. Toxicity level of a specific insecticide to wild bees & honeybees is not always the same. many times wild bees have a higher immunity level to the pesticidic chemical than domesticated honeybees. Even among wild bees there are some chemicals that are more toxic to one species of bees than to another.
According to the CCD report, "If bees are eating fresh or stored pollen contaminated with these chemicals at low levels, they may not cause mortality but may impact the bee's ability to learn or make memories. This could cause the colonies to dwindle and eventually die." Essentially what this is saying is the species-specific memory is being affected by these chemicals being in the food supply of the bees.
At present relatively few common factors in this problem have been found and oddly enough no commonality in any environmental chemicals, agents, techniques or procedural operations have been identified as having any correlation with this problem. There is no one substance or event or sequence of events currently being singled out as the culprit.
This situation is not limited to the United States or even North America, this problem is global in scope ans is as complex anissue as the ramifications are alarming to the future of mankind as a species. Just such a loss to the honeybee population is occurring in other nations with highly developed agricultural infrastructures along with highly developed industrial technology.
This only begs an even deeper and more complex question for our society to answer: If we are so dependent on honeybee pollination for our food supply, what happens when the bees are wiped out? Mike Adams calls our current food production situation a "food bubble" and explains that as mankind disrupts nature and destroys sustainable ecosystems, the natural backlash will impact the food supply first. "Following a century of synthetic chemical poisoning of planet Earth, the human race is in for a rather abrupt population correction. The collapse of pollinators is merely a sign of things to come. Humans will either find a way to live in balance with the planet, or they may ultimately face the same fate as the honeybees."
â€¢ USDA Says Virus Probably Behind Honey Bee Mystery
â€¢ Honey Bee Disappearance May Be Linked To Pesticides
â€¢ Cell Phones Linked to Bee Decline
Honey bee populations have suddenly begun to decline, and some British researchers think the proliferation of cell phones is a contributing cause.
A limited study at Landau University has found that bees will abandon their hives when cell phones are turned on and placed next to them.
What is known is that there are suddenly fewer bees to pollinate plants. In case after case bee keepers in the U.S. and Europe have reported something called Colony Collapse Disorder. In CCD, a hive's inhabitants desert the colony, leaving only queens and eggs.
CCD reports escalated sharply last fall, with bee populations falling as much as 60 percent on the West Coast and 70 percent on the East Coast. Not only does that impact honey production, it also poses a threat to food production, since bees are needed to pollinate plants.
While mass-produced crops like wheat and corn are pollinated by wind, some 90 cultivated flowering crops rely mostly on honeybees. According to a Cornell University study, honeybees pollinate every third bite of food ingested by Americans, and help generate some $14 billion in produce.
"Are honey bees the canary in the coal mine?" asks Jerry Hayes, an official with the Florida Department of Agriculture. "What are honey bees trying to tell us that we humans should be paying more attention to?"
While the cell phone theory might seem far fetched, the British study isn't the first to suggest that man's technology might be short circuiting bees' navigation systems. German researchers have show that bees' behavior is different near power lines.
A few scientists also think the introduction of genetically modified crops could also be linked to the sudden disappearance of the honey bee.
Revised Sep 2009
Copyright Â© 2007-2009 Donald R Houston, PhD. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.