Sciencewomen

Silence of the Bees

You may have heard that honeybees in this country are dying off. You may know that scientists have called this epidemic “CCD,” or colony collapse disorder, where honeybees seem to lose the ability to find the hive again, and disappear forever. Scientists think CCD may be caused by a virus, or a combination of other factors, such as the presence of pesticides or the poor nutrition and high antibiotic use of commercial bee populations. There are other theories too.

Nature on PBS reports that, if the rate of collapse continues, all honeybee populations in the US will die out by 2035.

But did you know there is an area in China where this has already happened? And pollination has to happen by hand?

It’s true – watch online in this episode of Nature of how farmers have to hand-pollinate pear blossoms.

I really feel that CCD is the beginning of the climate change apocalypse. There are a few small things we can do as individuals, including supporting local organic agriculture. But really, the magnitude of this problem is terrifying. I think about it like the dolphins leaving the Earth before it is demolished to make way for a hyperspatial bypass.

Sorry to be such a downer. But I really do find it terrifying.

Comments

  1. #1 Ian
    June 25, 2008

    I’d heard there is some evidence that Australian bees have at least some immunity to this. Why aren’t we exploring imports or hybrids? Or are we? Hell, if we can Africanize them we can sure Australianize them!

  2. #2 Mommyprof
    June 25, 2008

    I heard on You Bet Your Garden (gardening show on NPR) last year that the disorder affects imported bees, but not native bees. Something about how the native bees aren’t as amenable to commercial bee keeping, so beekeepers use a breed imported from Europe.

    True?

  3. #3 bwv
    June 25, 2008

    Why would Nature extrapolate the decline out until 2035? Don’t they believe in evolution? If it is some agent – a toxin, disease etc. then some bees will adapt some resistance and repopulate. They are insects with a huge reproductive rate. Not to say that in the short run this cannot be an acute problem, but ISTM that fears of bees disappearing off the face of the earth are way overblown.

  4. #4 Addy N.
    June 25, 2008

    I just saw the end of that episode of Nature the other night! I agree it is absolutely terrifying- do people realize that almost everything we eat relies on pollination?? It is really, really, really scary stuff that could keep me up at night. Yikes.

  5. #5 ScienceWoman
    June 25, 2008

    Mommyprof: I’ve heard the same thing.

  6. #6 Chelonian
    June 25, 2008

    bwv: Evolution is not a sure-fire mechanism; especially if the cause of CCD is multi-factorial, it is not a given that adaptive evolution will occur. Species do die out, you know, not all of them evolve out of whatever sticky spot they find themselves in. It is very difficult to assess the likelihood that resistant forms will emerge when we have no idea what the cause of the decline might be.

  7. #7 Carrie
    June 25, 2008

    SW & MP — it also has to do with the [now] lack of diversity of the bee population on the Continental US. This is why the bee population here in HI has become so important. Turns out, the population here is something like 90% ‘wild’ with much more genetic diversity than that on the mainland. From what I’ve read, there is hope that our bees can help the mainland with their diversity issues.

  8. #8 Bill Lemon
    June 25, 2008

    All the bees being affected by CCD are European honeybees, Apis mellifera, originally imported to the US during colonial days. The disorder is only affecting this introduced species and not the native North American bees. The problem is that native bees do not live in huge manageable hives, do not produce much honey and do not pollinate many of the introduced crop species that we rely upon. Native plants will continue to be pollinated by native bees. Introduced agricultural plants, on the other hand, might not.

    We do have some ideas about the causes of CCD and the leading school of thought is that it is multifactorial. Contributors most likely include increased pesticide loads, parasitic mite infestations, viruses and decreased genetic diversity in commercial bee populations.

    I think it is unlikely that honeybees will go extinct, even in the US. Africanized honey bees are doing well in the southwest. But agricultural practices that depend on cheap pollination services from commercial beekeepers are being forced to adapt.

  9. #9 tincture
    June 25, 2008

    I’d heard there is some evidence that Australian bees have at least some immunity to this.

    I hope so. I love Bees, cutest little things ever.

  10. #10 zayzayem
    June 26, 2008

    Re: Ian.

    I saw some news report that yes, we are exporting Australian bees to the US. I believe California is seeing some success using our bees. I didn’t hear anything about Aussie bees being immune to whatever is the cause of CCD, but I guess that would be an explanation.

    There would be quarrantine issues involved significantly in this sort of trade. the worst thing for you Americans would be if some Australian threat was exported over too, decimating the shrinking remains of the US bee industry.

  11. #11 Zuska
    June 26, 2008

    Yeah, that’s all we need, some disease the Australian bees have evolved immunity to but that wipes out native bees here, so no more native plant pollination, so no more native plants.

    I thank you for writing this post if only so that I feel a little less alone with the near constant just-below-the-surface panic and despair I feel nearly all the time about the planet’s plight. I recycle, I compost, I try to use less energy, I drive less, I have planted native plants in my yard, I buy from the local farmer’s market, and so on, but it feels like such a tiny drop in such a huge bucket and some days it just makes me crazy with anxiety and fear.

  12. #12 jj
    June 26, 2008

    “I think about it like the dolphins leaving the Earth before it is demolished to make way for a hyperspatial bypass.”

    Damn dolphins, hang around earth, eat all our fish, and then just leave when the planets about to be destroyed! Well, so long and thanks for all the fish (I’m joining them)!

  13. #13 Airtightnoodle
    July 8, 2008

    Enjoyed the Douglas Adams reference. :)

    To a previous commenter: Species can die out, regardless of evolution.