• Posted: Apr 11, 2010 17:43:04
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If a bee, I'd see the world with many eyes.
In January the Associated Press reported North American honey bee hives seemed to be surviving in greater numbers this year, news that prompted some to hope worrisome Colony Collapse Disorder was abating. But in late March, an updated AP report found that this Spring again, for the fourth year in a row, American beekeepers were finding as many as a third of their hives mysteriously empty of worker bees.
What is so worrisome about CCD is that modern agriculture is hugely dependent upon industrious bees as pollinators of money making crops. Without efficient pollination, fruit and seed production plummets. Without plentiful harvests, Americans would see much higher food prices and much less abundance in grocery stores.
Current thinking is that Colony Collapse Disorder is a recent development in the ecology of bees, but the scientific literature does list similar "disappearances" in the 1880's, 1920's, 1960's, and most recently in Pennsylvania in 1996. (See USDA/ARS. Also see USDA/NAL.)
Researchers are currently investigating a number of possible causes including pesticides, pathogens born by mites, viruses, and fungi. The most suspicious connections reported so far have been correlations up to 96% between bee samples from CCD hives and viruses born by the varroa mite, a creature accidently introduced into the U.S. in 1986. (Again see USDA/ARS.)
Succeeding research into such viruses, as reported by AP and researchers from the USDA and the University of Illinois in late August 2009, suggests one "picorna-like" virus that can be transmitted by the varroa mite causes a breakdown of RNA in bees.
As reported in the Associated Press story: "If your ribosome is compromised, then you can't respond to pesticides, you can't respond to fungal infections or bacteria or inadequate nutrition because the ribosome is central to the survival of any organism. You need proteins to survive," per May R. Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at U of I.
Unfortunately, that news prompted beekeepers to heavily spray for mites last Fall only to find a discomforting build up of suspect pesticide residue in the honey and pollen of newly collapsed hives this Spring. Frustrated beekeepers want to do something to save their hives, but definitive answers are just not in yet. And so, research continues.
If a bee be I, I'd love to find the endless sky
Monday, March 30th, 2009