The decline of the honey bee

One of America’s hardest working gardeners is in trouble. The western honey bee population is decreasing dramatically due largely to a problem that has been labeled colony collapse disorder. This phenomenon has been taking place for over 2 years and there is no concrete evidence as to why. Research suggests several theories including new pesticides having a negative effect, a new parasite or pathogen, or a combination of environmental stresses.

Colony collapse disorder is marked by several characteristics. The most baffling characteristic is the simple disappearance of a colony. When hives are checked, they often contain only the queen, premature bees, honey and pollen with no dead adults found in proximity to the hive.

On their website, the USDA lists three major possibilities that may be leading to CCD. The first possibility is the use of new pesticides that little research has been done as to their negative effects on a bee population. Currently in question is the use of clothianidinas a pesticide. The EPA lists, on a fact sheet about the chemical, that it may be detrimental to the health of bees. Just as recently as Monday, the National Resources Defence Council filled a lawsuit against the Federal Government to disclose the studies it has on the effects of this new pesticide on honey bees.

The second possibility is that of a new pathogen or parasite. Honey bees have often been afflicted with mites that feed of the bees’ blood and the young brood. It is theorized that the mites, particularly the Varroa mite, may be responsible for spreading a new pathogen called the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. Based on sampling of hives that have suffered from CCD, IAPV appeared in nearly every one. What researchers don’t know is whether this is the major cause of the collapse, or a disease that bees have become susceptible to due to other factors. Researchers are currently trying to create an artificial collapse utilizing a clean colony in a controlled area. The control bees are mite free and have never been exposed to pesticides.

The third possibility is what the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s website refers to as a perfect storm. In this scenario, a number of environmental stresses are compromising the health of the honey bee. It is a combination of mite infestation, poor nutrition, overcrowded apiaries and fertilization of GMO plants.

The bees’ nutrition and diet has varied dramatically due to changes in the natural environment. In both rural and suburban areas of the country, weeds, buffers and natural fence rows are being cut down, obscuring the natural food sources for bees. Due to this, many beekeepers are being forced to artificially feed their colonies when they are not pollinating. When the bees are pollinating, they are often exposed to a very limited diet due largely to the mono cropping practice of farmers.

An additional stress on honey bee colonies is the practice of moving colonies by truck to different farms or orchards that need pollinating. The demand is growing each year for honey bee pollination, yet the managed bee colonies have decreased from five million to only two and a half million since the 1940’s. This is creating situations where bees must be trucked longer distances and more often.

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~ by Schwarvin on August 20, 2008.

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