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Old 03-03-2007, 03:42 AM
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Honey bees mysteriously disappearing at alarming rates

NY Times
March 2, 2007
Losing Their Buzz, MAY R. BERENBAUM

WHEN Hollywood filmmakers want to heighten the tension of an insect fear film, they just arrange for millions of killer bees to appear out of nowhere to threaten a vulnerable group of people — over the years, these have included children in a school bus, celebrants at a Mardi Gras parade and people living near a nuclear power plant.

But people from all demographic groups across the country are facing a much more frightening real-life situation: the disappearance of millions of bees. This winter, in more than 20 states, beekeepers have noticed that their honeybees have mysteriously vanished, leaving behind no clues as to their whereabouts. There are no tell-tale dead bodies either inside colonies or out in front of hives, where bees typically deposit corpses of dead nestmates.

What’s more, the afflicted colonies tend to be full of honey, pollen and larvae, as if all of the workers in the nest precipitously decamped on some prearranged signal. Beekeepers are up in arms — last month, leaders in the business met with research scientists and government officials in Florida to figure out why the bees are disappearing and how to stop the losses. Nobody had any answers.

That beekeepers are alarmed over this situation is understandable, but, just as in the movies, the public may not recognize the magnitude of the threat that these mysterious events present.

A decline in the numbers of Apis melllifera, the world’s most widely distributed semi-domesticated insect, doesn’t just mean a shortage of honey for toast and tea. In fact, the economic value of honey, wax and other bee products is trivial in comparison with the honeybee’s services as a pollinator. More than 90 crops in North America rely on honeybees to transport pollen from flower to flower, effecting fertilization and allowing production of fruit and seed. The amazing versatility of the species is worth an estimated $14 billion a year to the United States economy.

Approximately one-third of the typical American’s diet (primarily the healthiest part) is directly or indirectly the result of honey bee pollination. Production of almonds in California, a $2 billion enterprise, is almost entirely dependent on honey bees. Every year beekeepers transport millions of bees around the country to meet the ever-growing need for pollination services for almonds, apples, blueberries, peaches and other crops. This year it is possible that there won’t be enough bees to meet the demand for pollinators.

Theories abound as to potential causes of what is being called colony collapse disorder. As a social species living in close quarters at high densities — the average hive contains upwards of 30,000 insects — honeybees are prone to a staggering diversity of fungal, bacterial and viral diseases. In the 1980s, honeybee numbers plummeted when two species of parasitic mites appeared, wiping out most populations of wild bees and placing more pressure on managed colonies. This latest drop in numbers may be the consequence of a new infection, or of several diseases simultaneously, leading to a fatally compromised immune system.

It is also possible that severe stress brought on by crowding, inadequate nutrition or even the combined effects of prophylactic antibiotics and miticides sprayed by beekeepers to ward off infections may be a factor. Another, particularly sad, possibility is that accidental exposure to a new pesticide may cause non-lethal behavioral changes that interfere with the ability of honeybees to orient and navigate; brain-damaged foraging bees may simply get lost on their way home and starve to death away from the hive.

Irrespective of its causes, however, this drop comes at a critical time, with demand for pollination services rocketing upward. Even in a high-tech age when the human capacity to improve upon nature seems limitless, there is no satisfactory substitute for the honeybee. Thus it’s astonishing that beekeeping remains largely unimproved by technological advances relative to just about every other form of animal husbandry. The basic design of honey bee housing is essentially unchanged since L. L. Langstroth patented his movable frame hive in 1852; artificial insemination of queens, the last significant technological advance in beekeeping, was introduced early in the 20th century. The 21st century holds great promise for innovation.

Last October, an international consortium of scientists announced the publication of the sequence of the entire honey bee genome. Among the benefits of knowing the full gene inventory is that it has allowed the construction of a whole-genome microarray — essentially a microscope slide dotted with genetic material — here at the University of Illinois.

Microarray analysis is a powerful tool for examining differences among a very large number of genes rapidly and efficiently; it’s the basis for new diagnostic tools, for example, for clinical evaluation of many forms of cancer. For bees, microarray analysis of differences between healthy and afflicted bees may reveal the causes and provide insights for developing a cure.

The real key to dealing with colony collapse disorder, however, is understanding the extent of the problem, which may prove to be more of a challenge than figuring out its origins. Although Americans are in general good at counting things of value, we’ve done an absolutely appalling job at counting our bees and other pollinators.

In October, I served as chair of a committee for the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, on the status of pollinators in North America. Among the clearest conclusions of our report was that Americans do not keep track of pollinators, even the one on which much of our agriculture depends.

For example, the Department of Agriculture’s statistics service has kept records of honeybee colonies managed by beekeepers since 1947, but the annual survey monitors only colonies used in honey production. Colonies used exclusively for pollination are not included, nor do surveys take into account the fact that some honey-producing colonies travel. The Agriculture Department also doesn’t track bees kept by small-scale beekeepers with fewer than five colonies.

No current survey monitors colony health or variability in bee numbers over the season, a critical variable for assessing population dynamics as well as economic effects of fluctuations. Although the Agriculture Department surveys beekeeping operations every five years using criteria that address some of these issues, five years between surveys provides ample time for irreparable damage to occur before a problem can be recognized.

Conspicuous among the recommendations from the National Research Council committee was a call for the department to make annual bee assessments, with winter losses monitored, general health assessed and pollination services quantified.

Moreover, no system is in place to monitor feral bees — those that escape from managed colonies yet contribute critical pollination services to both wild plants and farms. We need long-term monitoring of feral honeybees along with other pollinators if we are to understand the true magnitude of pollination services essential for a healthy agricultural economy.

We count our pigs, our cows and our chickens (even before they hatch). The Agriculture Department, amid concerns about infectious disease and agro-terrorism, has even proposed establishing a national animal identification system, under which it could trace the origin of any animal in the food chain within 48 hours.

Yet honeybees, which contribute to our food chain in many more ways than any other animal species (and whose pollination makes available the alfalfa and clover processed into hay to feed beef and dairy cattle), are disappearing without a trace at a rate we can’t even measure accurately. Such obliviousness with respect to a precious resource in crisis might play well in a bad science fiction movie, but it’s truly alarming to see it in real life.

May R. Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois, is the author of “Buzzwords: A Scientist Muses on Sex, Bugs and Rock ’n’ Roll.”

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Old 03-03-2007, 08:57 AM
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Oh, this is an easy one. GLOBAL WARMING that was caused by Bush and his rich oil buddies.
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Old 03-03-2007, 09:04 AM
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Before the bees disappear they all sip a bit of malathion, lay down and stretch a silk kerchief over their multifaceted eyes, then the Mother of ALL Hives calls them home to the giant clover patch.

You can easily read the anticipation in their faces.
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Old 03-03-2007, 01:53 PM
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Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck.

If you'd read the article, global warming is not thought of as one of the culprits. Newer pesticides are more likely.

Seems like a small deal, but a lot of the best food you eat would not make it to your plate w/o honey bees pollinating crops. The article said honey bees add around $14 billion to our economy, and I'm guessing it's actually much more than that, as the economy wouldn't do to well if its foot soldiers were not well fed.

But who cares? We're the greatest nation on earth!! Who needs a buncha damn bees! All they do is sting you anyhow, right?
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Old 03-03-2007, 02:20 PM
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My neighbor behind me has bee boxes on a trailer. Next time I see him, I will have to ask him if he's "lost" any.
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Old 03-03-2007, 03:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cmac2012 View Post
Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck.

If you'd read the article, global warming is not thought of as one of the culprits. Newer pesticides are more likely.

Seems like a small deal, but a lot of the best food you eat would not make it to your plate w/o honey bees pollinating crops. The article said honey bees add around $14 billion to our economy, and I'm guessing it's actually much more than that, as the economy wouldn't do to well if its foot soldiers were not well fed.

But who cares? We're the greatest nation on earth!! Who needs a buncha damn bees! All they do is sting you anyhow, right?
Actually just 2 days ago I commented to a co-worker, as we were watching about 5 ba-gillion honey bees hangin in our shop dumpster and drinking water off the top of a 55 gallon drum, that I have never noticed that many bees in a long time. Weird. Maybe they are all heading South.
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Old 03-03-2007, 07:16 PM
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I have a conjecture for ya'll.

First, a couple of facts
Honeybees kept by professional keepers re-queen their hives to keep them productive. They buy queens from a surprisingly small number of breeders.

Here's the conjecture
Because of the small number of breeders, there is also a small number of genetically valuable bloodlines. Therefore, most honeybee queens are not genetically distinct. All of the offspring of a hive come from a single queen and they are all sisters. Thus, there is great uniformity between queens and within hives. This makes it easier for a pathogen to affect all honeybees.

Therefore
There is an as-yet identified virus that is affecting the fecundity of the queens.
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Old 03-05-2007, 05:44 AM
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Could be but that doesn't seem to square with the observations. They said the abandoned hives had pollen, honey, and larvae in them. Best guess I've read or heard about (it was NPR's living on the earth also) is that a type of pesticide has an aspect that can damage their ability to navigate back to the hive. What's weird is that it seems to hit all the bees at about the same time. 20 states have experienced this and some to a high degree.

Europe has banned that particular pesticide for exactly this reason, I believe that's what the NPR story claimed, if so, seems like an open and shut case.

Albert Einstein said that if honey bees were to go extinct, humans would follow in 4 years. Probably not his area of expertise but he might have a point, though I would give it way more than 4 years.
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Old 03-05-2007, 07:43 AM
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My Father keeps bees here in Ireland. The Varroa mite has been (and still seems to be) the largest threat, he's lost a few hives to them (about 10,000 in each hive).
Steve
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Old 03-05-2007, 07:49 AM
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My Father keeps bees here in Ireland. The Varroa mite has been (and still seems to be) the largest threat, he's lost a few hives to them (about 10,000 in each hive).
Steve
We've had the verroa mite for several decades. It is a reason that beekeepers treat their hives with pesticides.

B
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Old 03-05-2007, 10:26 AM
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Before the bees disappear they all sip a bit of malathion, lay down and stretch a silk kerchief over their multifaceted eyes, then the Mother of ALL Hives calls them home to the giant clover patch.

You can easily read the anticipation in their faces.
Unfortunately, they weren't told that the orbit of Hale Bop was a few days off.
p.s. "don't eat the pudding."
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Old 03-05-2007, 10:32 AM
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Could be but that doesn't seem to square with the observations. They said the abandoned hives had pollen, honey, and larvae in them. Best guess I've read or heard about (it was NPR's living on the earth also) is that a type of pesticide has an aspect that can damage their ability to navigate back to the hive. What's weird is that it seems to hit all the bees at about the same time. 20 states have experienced this and some to a high degree.

Europe has banned that particular pesticide for exactly this reason, I believe that's what the NPR story claimed, if so, seems like an open and shut case.
OK. Lets say, for the sake of argument it is the pesticides. Is this a new pesticide that just hit the market yesterday and today it is causing problems? If we have been using this pesticide for years and suddenly something happens, it is necessarily that pesticide just because Europe bans this same pesticide? Why suddenly today and not years ago? Also, s you have noted, it is all 20 states at the same time. So, are you sure that all 20 states that are affected are using this pesticide in all the hives that are affected?

I don't think it is such an open and shut case, with all due respect to Europe and NPR.
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Last edited by aklim; 03-05-2007 at 10:37 AM.
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Old 03-05-2007, 02:25 PM
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Of couse I couldn't state with certainty that it's an open and shut case. But there are all sorts of pesticides and if one is shown to mess up bees' nervous systems, I'm thinking that's a big downside and it should be discontinued.

Try some research if you want to know more.
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Old 03-05-2007, 02:28 PM
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All insecticides mess-up bee's nervous system.

Duh-oh!
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Old 03-05-2007, 02:35 PM
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Of couse I couldn't state with certainty that it's an open and shut case. But there are all sorts of pesticides and if one is shown to mess up bees' nervous systems, I'm thinking that's a big downside and it should be discontinued.

Try some research if you want to know more.
True. However, what I am saying is that just because NPR reported that Europe says something, doesn't make it so. We don't know what caused it. So lets not jump to conclusions. If we have used this item for years and something suddenly happens, does it make sense to label this item the culprit, wash our hands and go home? I think not. IMO, the door is still wide open and nowheres near an open and shut issue, NPR and Europe or not. Not advocating discounting what is reported but lets not just buy it wholesale either.

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