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If the Bees Disappear.....
Bees play an important role in pollinating flowering plants, and are the major type of pollinators in ecosystems that contain flowering plants. Bees may focus on gathering nectar or on gathering pollen, depending on their greater need at the time, especially in social species. Bees gathering nectar may accomplish pollination, but bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are more efficient pollinators. It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of this accomplished by bees.
Bees are extremely important as pollinators in agriculture, especially the domesticated Western honey bee, with contract pollination having overtaken the role of honey production for beekeepers in many countries. Monoculture and pollinator decline (of many bee species) have increasingly caused honey bee keepers to become migratory so that bees can be concentrated in areas of pollination need at the appropriate season. Recently, many such migratory beekeepers have experienced substantial losses, prompting the announcement of investigation into the phenomenon, dubbed "Colony Collapse Disorder", amidst great concern over the nature and extent of the losses.
Beekeepers in 24 states across America are encountering a strange phenomenon: bees—which seemed to be healthy days earlier—are abandoning their hives. Millions of these insects have been reported lost, with no trace of where the colonies may have gone, and no apparent cause for their disappearance. In a few other cases, whole colonies have been found dead in their hives. Scientists and beekeepers alike are unsure as to the source of this problem, which is tentatively being called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Suspected causes are pesticides, mites, viruses, cold weather, fungus, the use of antibiotics and low-quality food for the bees.
There are signs that the immune systems of infected bees are collapsing, again for no known reason, causing some to call it “bee HIV/AIDS.” With weakened immune systems, the bees are unable to fight off diseases. In fact, found in the stomachs of infected bees are traces of nearly every disease that has affected bees over the last 100 years. Honeybees, contrary to popular belief, do not simply make honey. They are also a crucial element needed to pollinate fruit and vegetable crops—amounting to a $14 billion share in the United States’ fresh produce. Farmers rent hives from beekeepers to ensure widespread pollination and, in turn, a good harvest. The success of crops such as almonds, apples, cranberries, and many other fruits and vegetables are all linked to bee pollination.
The vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation said, “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food” (International Herald Tribune). Colony Collapse Disorder has been seen before, but under different names. In 1915 it was called Disappearing Disease, and in the 1960s it was Dwindling Disease. Both outbreaks were localized, never widespread, and the causes were never determined.
While beekeepers consider a 20% loss to be normal for a season, losses of 30-60% have been reported this season, and the problem continues to spread. CCD is also being reported throughout parts of Canada and Europe.
If the current CCD outbreak subsides as it has in the past, certain food prices throughout America and Europe will rise for a short time, but drastic damage will be unlikely. However, if the problem continues to accelerate, and the causes of these mysterious disappearances are not determined soon, food supplies on both sides of the Atlantic will be dealt a heavy blow (World News Desk – March 9, 2007 Posted/Updated: 2007-03-09 11:31:59).
Are GM Crops Killing Bees?
A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German beekeepers worried, while a similar phenomenon in the United States is gradually assuming catastrophic proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be enormous. Walter Haefeker is a man who is used to painting grim scenarios. He sits on the board of directors of the German Beekeepers Association (DBIB) and is vice president of the European Professional Beekeepers Association. And because griping is part of a lobbyist's trade, it is practically his professional duty to warn that "the very existence of beekeeping is at stake."
The problem, says Haefeker, has a number of causes, one being the varroa mite, introduced from Asia, and another is the widespread practice in agriculture of spraying wildflowers with herbicides and practicing monoculture. Another possible cause, according to Haefeker, is the controversial and growing use of genetic engineering in agriculture. As far back as 2005, Haefeker ended an article he contributed to the journal Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report) with an Albert Einstein quote: "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."
Mysterious events in recent months have suddenly made Einstein's apocalyptic vision seem all the more topical. For unknown reasons, bee populations throughout Germany are disappearing -- something that is so far only harming beekeepers. But the situation is different in the United States, where bees are dying in such dramatic numbers that the economic consequences could soon be dire. No one knows what is causing the bees to perish, but some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor .
Felix Kriechbaum, an official with a regional beekeepers' association in Bavaria, recently reported a decline of almost 12 percent in local bee populations. When "bee populations disappear without a trace," says Kriechbaum, it is difficult to investigate the causes, because "most bees don't die in the beehive." There are many diseases that can cause bees to lose their sense of orientation so they can no longer find their way back to their hives. Manfred Hederer, the president of the German Beekeepers Association, almost simultaneously reported a 25 percent drop in bee populations throughout Germany. In isolated cases, says Hederer, declines of up to 80 percent have been reported. He speculates that "a particular toxin, some agent with which we are not familiar," is killing the bees. Politicians, until now, have shown little concern for such warnings or the woes of beekeepers. Although apiarists have been given a chance to make their case -- for example in the run-up to the German cabinet's approval of a genetic engineering policy document by Minister of Agriculture Horst Seehofer in February -- their complaints are still largely ignored.
Even when beekeepers actually go to court, as they recently did in a joint effort with the German chapter of the organic farming organization Demeter International and other groups to oppose the use of genetically modified corn plants, they can only dream of the sort of media attention environmental organizations like Greenpeace attract with their protests at test sites.
In an article in its business section in late February, the New York Times calculated the damage US agriculture would suffer if bees died out. Experts at Cornell University in upstate New York have estimated the value bees generate -- by pollinating fruit and vegetable plants, almond trees and animal feed like clover -- at more than $14 billion.
Scientists call the mysterious phenomenon "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD), and it is fast turning into a national catastrophe of sorts. A number of universities and government agencies have formed a "CCD Working Group" to search for the causes of the calamity, but have so far come up empty-handed. But, like Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, they are already referring to the problem as a potential "AIDS for the bee industry."(Spiegel, March 22, 2007).
Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?
It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail. They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world - the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon - which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe - was beginning to hit Britain as well. The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.
The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast. CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.
Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK." The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left".
No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks. German research has long shown that bees' behaviour changes near power lines. Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause.
Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."
The disease showed a completely new set of symptoms, “which does not seem to match anything in the literature”, said the entomologist. … the few bees left inside the hive were carrying “a tremendous number of pathogens” - virtually every known bee virus could be detected in the insects, she said, and some bees were carrying five or six viruses at a time, as well as fungal infections. Because of this it was assumed that the bees’ immune systems were being suppressed in some way. - The Independent
There are as many theories as there are members of the panel, but Mr Hackenberg strongly suspects that new breeds of nicotine-based pesticides are to blame.
“It may be that the honeybee has become the victim of these insecticides that are meant for other pests,” he said. “If we don’t figure this out real quick, it’s going to wipe out our food supply.”
Just a few miles down the sunlit road, it is easy to find farmers prepared to agree with his gloomy assessment. … Dennis van Engelsdorp, a Pennsylvania-based beekeeper and leading researcher… is adamant that it is too early to pin the blame on insecticides.”We have no evidence to think that that theory is more right than any other…” - BBC
Pesticides and herbicides used in farming and on suburban lawns can weaken or kill bees. Caron said a new class of pesticides used on plants, called neonicotinoids, don’t kill bees but hamper their sense of direction. That leaves them unable to find their way back to their hives. … Because these bees aren’t returning to their hives, researchers don’t have a lot of evidence to study. Those dead bees that have been found nearby have only deepened the mystery.
“They are just dirty with parts and pieces of various diseases,” said Jim Tew, a beekeeping expert with the OSU Extension campus in Wooster. “It looks like a general stress collapse.” Similar disappearances have occurred over time. Tew said he remembers a similar phenomenon in the 1960s. Then, it was called “disappearing disease.” “It was exactly the same thing,” he said.
But this one, Caron said, apparently causes hives to collapse at a much quicker rate and is more widespread. Cobey said it could be from too much of everything: bad weather, chemicals, parasites, viruses.
“If you give them one of these things at a time, they seem to deal with it,” she said. “But all of these things, it’s too hard. “I think the bees are just compromised. They’re stressed out.” - Columbus Dispatch (March 15, 2007 · Filed under Agriculture & Food, Environment & Wildlife by Craig Mackintosh).
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