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Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

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Link: Bee numbers in decline

Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

The world may be on the brink of biological disaster after news that a third of US bee colonies did not survive the winter

Alison Benjamin

The Observer, Sunday 2 May 2010

Disturbing evidence that honeybees are in terminal decline has emerged from the United States where, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of colonies have failed to survive the winter.

The decline of the country's estimated 2.4 million beehives began in 2006, when a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) led to the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of colonies. Since then more than three million colonies in the US and billions of honeybees worldwide have died and scientists are no nearer to knowing what is causing the catastrophic fall in numbers.

The number of managed honeybee colonies in the US fell by 33.8% last winter, according to the annual survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the US government's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The collapse in the global honeybee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination, which means that bees contribute some £26bn to the global economy.

Potential causes range from parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, to viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods. The disappearance of so many colonies has also been dubbed "Mary Celeste syndrome" due to the absence of dead bees in many of the empty hives.

US scientists have found 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen, lending credence to the notion that pesticides are a key problem. "We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies," said Jeffery Pettis, of the ARS's bee research laboratory.

A global review of honeybee deaths by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reported last week that there was no one single cause, but pointed the finger at the "irresponsible use" of pesticides that may damage bee health and make them more susceptible to diseases. Bernard Vallat, the OIE's director-general, warned: "Bees contribute to global food security, and their extinction would represent a terrible biological disaster."

Dave Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries, the Pennsylvania-based commercial beekeeper who first raised the alarm about CCD, said that last year had been the worst yet for bee losses, with 62% of his 2,600 hives dying between May 2009 and April 2010. "It's getting worse," he said. "The AIA survey doesn't give you the full picture because it is only measuring losses through the winter. In the summer the bees are exposed to lots of pesticides. Farmers mix them together and no one has any idea what the effects might be."

Pettis agreed that losses in some commercial operations are running at 50% or greater. "Continued losses of this magnitude are not economically sustainable for commercial beekeepers," he said, adding that a solution may be years away. "Look at Aids, they have billions in research dollars and a causative agent and still no cure. Research takes time and beehives are complex organisms."

In the UK it is still too early to judge how Britain's estimated 250,000 honeybee colonies have fared during the long winter. Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeepers' Association, said: "Anecdotally, it is hugely variable. There are reports of some beekeepers losing almost a third of their hives and others losing none." Results from a survey of the association's 15,000 members are expected this month.

John Chapple, chairman of the London Beekeepers' Association, put losses among his 150 members at between a fifth and a quarter. Eight of his 36 hives across the capital did not survive. "There are still a lot of mysterious disappearances," he said. "We are no nearer to knowing what is causing them."

Bee farmers in Scotland have reported losses on the American scale for the past three years. Andrew Scarlett, a Perthshire-based bee farmer and honey packer, lost 80% of his 1,200 hives this winter. But he attributed the massive decline to a virulent bacterial infection that quickly spread because of a lack of bee inspectors, coupled with sustained poor weather that prevented honeybees from building up sufficient pollen and nectar stores.

The government's National Bee Unit has always denied the existence of CCD in Britain, despite honeybee losses of 20% during the winter of 2008-09 and close to a third the previous year. It attributes the demise to the varroa mite – which is found in almost every UK hive – and rainy summers that stop bees foraging for food.

In a hard-hitting report last year, the National Audit Office suggested that amateur beekeepers who failed to spot diseases in bees were a threat to honeybees' survival and called for the National Bee Unit to carry out more inspections and train more beekeepers. Last summer MPs on the influential cross-party public accounts committee called on the government to fund more research into what it called the "alarming" decline of honeybees.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has contributed £2.5m towards a £10m fund for research on pollinators. The public accounts committee has called for a significant proportion of this funding to be "ring-fenced" for honeybees. Decisions on which research projects to back are expected this month.

WHY BEES MATTER

Flowering plants require insects for pollination. The most effective is the honeybee, which pollinates 90 commercial crops worldwide. As well as most fruits and vegetables – including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots – they pollinate nuts, sunflowers and oil-seed rape. Coffee, soya beans, clovers – like alfafa, which is used for cattle feed – and even cotton are all dependent on honeybee pollination to increase yields.

In the UK alone, honeybee pollination is valued at £200m. Mankind has been managing and transporting bees for centuries to pollinate food and produce honey, nature's natural sweetener and antiseptic. Their extinction would mean not only a colourless, meatless diet of cereals and rice, and cottonless clothes, but a landscape without orchards, allotments and meadows of wildflowers – and the collapse of the food chain that sustains wild birds and animals.

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Let me venture a guess: genetically modified crops. Bees might have a more selective palate than humans do.

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Of concern, but reading some of the comments suggests that it is related to farming practices more than anything else, so can be dealt with. I wouldn't be surprised if GMO crops are a partial factor.

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Let me venture a guess: genetically modified crops. Bees might have a more selective palate than humans do.

Nah the Genetically modified theory was because of the expressed insecticide (or herbicide can't remember which) and that theory hasn't got much credence.

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I read on another forum that the US is importing bees from Australia but the majority don't survive once they get to the US

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I read on another forum that the US is importing bees from Australia but the majority don't survive once they get to the US

I had a bit to do with the industry a while ago - Yeah, we export quite a lot of queens (bees, that is). Most survive, though - at least as long as the local queens do, which is not that long I guess.

We are well thought of O/S, as our bees are good natured - docile and clean...

CCD is generally thought to be a combination of factors, each stressing the colonies a bit and collectively just pushing them over the survivability threshold.

Americans treat their bees pretty harshly, too, carrying them across winter on sugar syrup (calories without nutrients) and treating various diseases and pests with high (borderline toxic) levels of pesticides and antibiotics. They have varroa mite, too, which does it's part in knocking off a percentage of hives each year.

CCD is a potentially big problem and despite considerable international research, it is basically still a mystery.

If you like honey, buy up big (it never - literally- goes off), and as soon as varroa hits Aussie shores our honey will be as full of crap as the rest of the world's is. FWIW, Kangaroo Island honey is amongst the best and purest in the world.

Bees dying off is definitely a worry but possibly not quite as much as people think it will be.

Most food is wind pollinated to a significant degree, and there are quite a few wild bees and other insects that help out, too.

The 'meat and cereals only' scenario the article describes probably would not work, either, as at least some high quality pastures (for meat producing stock) require pollination too...

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I had a bit to do with the industry a while ago - Yeah, we export quite a lot of queens (bees, that is). Most survive, though - at least as long as the local queens do, which is not that long I guess.

We are well thought of O/S, as our bees are good natured - docile and clean...

CCD is generally thought to be a combination of factors, each stressing the colonies a bit and collectively just pushing them over the survivability threshold.

Americans treat their bees pretty harshly, too, carrying them across winter on sugar syrup (calories without nutrients) and treating various diseases and pests with high (borderline toxic) levels of pesticides and antibiotics. They have varroa mite, too, which does it's part in knocking off a percentage of hives each year.

CCD is a potentially big problem and despite considerable international research, it is basically still a mystery.

If you like honey, buy up big (it never - literally- goes off), and as soon as varroa hits Aussie shores our honey will be as full of crap as the rest of the world's is. FWIW, Kangaroo Island honey is amongst the best and purest in the world.

Bees dying off is definitely a worry but possibly not quite as much as people think it will be.

Most food is wind pollinated to a significant degree, and there are quite a few wild bees and other insects that help out, too.

The 'meat and cereals only' scenario the article describes probably would not work, either, as at least some high quality pastures (for meat producing stock) require pollination too...

Good info Ruffian. One thing though, the article says colourless, meetless diet.

Biodiversity is the key. Mess with that and you get a build up of pests & disease. GMO, Intensive farming & Chemicals are all bad. Keep it simple, sustainable & organic like it's been for most human history and we might have a chance.

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...Keep it simple, sustainable & organic like it's been for most human history and we might have a chance.

Care to define organic and sustainable and say when we last had them? You are aware of the African "breadbasket of humanity" I assume?

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Care to define organic and sustainable and say when we last had them? You are aware of the African "breadbasket of humanity" I assume?

Organic as in organically grown food, common meaning, no chemicals. Sustainable in terms of human development; I like the definition that goes something like "The ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"

Sure, you could say we weren't organic & sustainable as soon as the Neolithic revolution began. Current estimates put the population of the world at 1 billion only 200 years ago. 6 billion plus today... that's not sustainable.

The Earth before man was ecologically pretty sustainable but there were still extinctions. The earth itself will be consumed by the sun so is it a sustainable system long term?

I'm a tread lightly kinda guy. Man should enjoy the land but not exploit it.

Africa, well again it's the unsustainable population growth & human greed. Before monarchs & governments farmed their civilisations people would move to new & fertile grounds if required, now they starve because they don't have a passport. And yes I understand the implications of having more than half the worlds population moving to fertile grounds is also a recipe for disaster at the current numbers.

So when were we last organic & sustainable? Depends on the scale of the question.

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This is an incredibly potent problem.

http://www.enn.com/t...s/article/42455

Published March 11, 2011 01:45 PM

Honeybee End?

The mysterious collapse of honey-bee colonies is becoming a global phenomenon. Declines in managed bee colonies, seen increasingly in Europe and the US in the past decade, are also now being observed in China and Japan and there are the first signs of African collapses from Egypt, according to the report from the United Nations. Beekeepers in Western countries have been reporting slow declines of stocks for many years, apparently due to impaired protein production, changes in agricultural practice, or unpredictable weather. In early 2007, abnormally high die-offs (30-70% of hives) of European honey bee colonies occurred in the U.S. and Québec; such a decline seems unprecedented in recent history. This has been dubbed Colony collapse disorder (CCD); it is unclear whether this is simply an accelerated phase of the general decline due to more adverse conditions in 2006, or a novel phenomenon. More than a dozen factors, ranging from declines in flowering plants and the use of memory-damaging insecticides to the world-wide spread of pests and air pollution, may be behind the emerging decline of bee colonies across many parts of the globe.

Bees are generalist floral visitors, and will pollinate a large variety of plants, but by no means all plants. Of all the honey bee species, only Apis mellifera has been used extensively for commercial pollination of crops and other plants. The value of these pollination services is commonly measured in the billions of dollars.

Currently being used as pollinators in managed pollination are honey bees, bumblebees, alfalfa leafcutter bees, and orchard mason bees. Humans also can be pollinators, as the gardener who may hand pollinates squash blossoms.

Declines in managed bee colonies date back to the mid 1960s in Europe but have accelerated since 1998, especially in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In North America, losses of honey bee colonies since 2004 have left the continent with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the past 50 years.

Chinese bee keepers, who manage both western and eastern species of honey bees, have recently faced several inexplicable and complex symptoms of colony losses in both species.

A quarter of beekeepers in Japan have been confronted with sudden losses of their bee colonies.

In Africa, beekeepers along the Egyptian Nile have been reporting signs of CCD although to date there are no other confirmed reports from the rest of the continent.

There seem to be multiple factors involved in CCD. Habitat degradation, including the loss of flowering plant species that provide food for bees, is among the key factors behind the decline of wild-living pollinators.

An Anglo-Dutch study has found that since the 1980s, there has been a 70 per cent drop in key wild flowers among, for example, the mint, pea and perennial herb families.

Parasites and Pests, such as the well known Varroa mite which feeds on bee fluids, are also a factor.

Other parasites include the small hive beetle, which damages honeycombs, stored honey and pollen. Endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, it has spread to North America and Australia and may come to Europe.

Bees may also be suffering from competition by 'alien species' such as the Africanized bee in the United States and the Asian hornet which feed on European honey bees. The hornet has now colonized nearly half of France since 2004.

Air pollution may be interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering plants and thus food.

Electromagnetic fields from sources such as power lines might also be changing bee behavior. Bees are sensitive as they have small abdominal crystals that contain lead.

Herbicides and pesticides may be reducing the availability of wild flowers and plants needed for food and for the larval stages of some pollinators. Laboratory studies have found that some insecticides and fungicides can act together to be 1,000 times more toxic to bees.

Some insecticides, including those applied to seeds and which can migrate to the entire plant as it grows, and others used to treat cats, fish, birds and rabbits, may also be taking their toll.

Studies have shown that such chemicals can affect the sense of direction, memory and brain metabolism in bees

The management of hives may also be adding to the problem. Some of the treatments against pests may actually be harmful to bees and a growing habit of re-using equipment and food from dead colonies might be spreading disease and chemicals to new hives.

Transporting bees from one farm to another in order to provide pollination services increasingly unavailable from nature could be an additional factor. In the United States, trucks carrying up to 20 million bees are common and each year over two million colonies travel across the continent. Mortality rates, following transportation, can be as much as 10 per cent of a colony

The full report, Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators, can be downloaded at:

http://www.unep.org/...pollinators.pdf

For more information: http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=664&ArticleID=6923&l=en&t=long

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http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/04/12/3189390.htm

Beekeepers on the lookout for foreign pest

Posted Tue Apr 12, 2011 2:32pm AEST

The State Government has given beekeepers around Melbourne's port special hives as part of a pilot program looking for signs of an invasive foreign pest.

The varroa mite destroys bee hives and colonies, and could damage various parts of the agriculture sector if it got into Australia.

Jim McKey is one of a number of hobby beekeepers around the port taking part in the bee force program.

"The apiary inspector sends a sticky mat to me that I insert into a special slot that they've put into the hive," he said.

"You leave that mat in the hive for one to two days. If there are any mites in the hive, they would drop onto the sticky mat."

Mr McKey says a lot of primary producers rely on pollination by the honey bee.

"In Victoria, the almond crops totally rely on bees and they use tens of thousands of hives every year," he said.

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