Monday, April 2, 2012

Bee-ing poisoned

Bees have been having a hard time of it lately.  The term “colony collapse disorder” has been used to describe their widespread dissolution first noted in 2006.  One possible culprit has been discovered.

The Economist, 31 March 2012

Climate change, habitat destruction, a paralysing virus, fungal infection and even a plague of parasitic mites have all been proposed. But one of the leading ideas is that the bees are suffering from the effects of neonicotinoids, a class of commonly used pesticides, introduced in the 1990s, which are toxic to insects but much less so to mammals.

All of the doses of imidacloprid, both high and low, that Dr Whitehorn gave her bees were “sublethal”—in other words, insufficient to kill the insects outright. Firms that produce pesticides, and the authorities that regulate them, are aware of the importance of bees to food production, and new products must be tested to make sure they are not fatal to helpful insects. But Dr Whitehorn found that even non-lethal doses of pesticide were bad for bees…

Moreover, even if it did not do so alone, it could be a contributing factor. Many researchers believe the label “colony collapse disorder” covers a multitude of problems; that would account for the long list of possible causes. But neonicotinoids have the explanatory virtue of being a fairly recent development and also one which, as these two pieces of work suggest, could be a common factor in weakening a colony without actually pushing it over the edge. The killer blow would then be administered by something else: a mite infestation, perhaps, or a fungal infection, or whatever else happened to turn up that a healthy hive would have shrugged off.

Recall of course that if we are going to expand the current model of agriculture, the one that has so far fed far more people than had ever been thought possible, we are going to need more and better pesticides, not less.  Trying to produce more food, for more people is going to continue to push up against various limiting factors.


PioneerPreppy said...

One aspect the CCD crowd doesn't seem to key into is that it mostly appears to be a large commercial honey bee phenomenon. Small scale producers and hobbyist do not appear to suffer as much loss in their hives.

Some have stated that is may simply be that treating for the various mites and such and moving hives to forage exclusively on sprayed crops is the culprit. Also harvesting too much honey and force feeding sugar changes the balance of the hive as well.

Interestingly enough the more wooded states, which means bees are free to forage in unsprayed hardwoods and such, suffer less CCD overall.

Humble wife said...

I have been reading about bees, and as a result of the decline(for whatever reason), have been prepping for housing bees on the farm.

Still in the planning stages, and are grateful that I have a friend in OK, that can share her knowledge.

Degringolade said...

I love honey, and if I could, I would set up a small colony, but in the meantime, mason bees are great for pollination, but, alas, no honey

russell1200 said...

PP: Yes, it all sounds a bit suspicious. Anytime big money interests get involved there is always a smoke screen that goes up to try and muddy the issues. If the pesicides are the primary culpret, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see the manufacturers going into overtime highlighting other problems.

HW & D: I have a relative in Arlington VA (right next to Washington DC). They have a couple of little neighborhood beehives. So I guess bees have joined chickens as the new urban backyard phenomina. My little one was stong by a nest of yellow jackets at age 3. He would freak out if there was a beehive anywhere in his vicinity.

Abbe said...

Interesting article. Thanks for sharing. I want to have bees sometime too, but my family is not all in favor of it. I think this article supports the organic and local farm system for food production.

russell1200 said...

A: Yes, as my note to HW & D noted, my little one is very afraid of bees.

It might be a stretch to say that it supports local farming initiatives. But it certainly questions the ability to every centralize, and regularize (big ag) our agriculture as a panacea for feeding ever increasing numbers of people.

I say that it is a stretch, because presumably there are other methods between,and to the side of either model that it would also be supportive of.