Research continues on the agricultural and environmental mystery known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). However, finding a cause and a subsequent cure for the problem is fast becoming a race against time for scientists.
The number of disappearing honey bees in recent years is indeed staggering. Many beekeepers estimate that, at the current rate of bee loss, there now may be only a ten year window to find a cure. Colony Collapse Disorder is unique since it leaves bee hives with a queen bee, a few newly-hatched adults, and plenty of food, while all of the worker bees responsible for pollination just disappear.
The fact is that, in the last two years, close to two million colonies of honeybees across the US have been wiped out by CCD. Internationally, the problem has taken the lives of billions of honeybees in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and the UK. In Taiwan, ten million honey bees are reported to have just vanished.
A lack of commercial honey bee pollination would be devastating to agriculture. Ninety crops worldwide depend on honey bee pollination as does the cotton plant. Therefore, Colony Collapse Disorder threatens both our health and our attire. So, unless a future diet of cereal and grain, and clothing without cotton appeals to you, hope that current CCD research soon solves the problem of the disappearing honey bee.
There has been considerable speculation on the cause of the sudden disappearance of the honey bee. Global warming, cell phones, terrorist attacks, and power lines have all been identified as potential causes. All of these possibilities have been discounted while other possible reasons have recently come into scientific focus. The major problems that the honey bees face can be broken down into four categories; mites, pesticides, virus, and stress. It may even be a combination of some or all these bee problems that account for the mystery of CCD.
The varroa mite has been a problem for the honey bee since the late 1980s. For over twenty years this external bee parasite is responsible for dramatic declines in the honeybee population in North America and throughout the world. The mite problem for the honey bee was particularly acute during the winter of 1995-1996. Since then, bee losses have continued despite heavy use of pesticides to control the mite populations. However, parasitic mites cannot explain Colony Collapse Disorder as there is no evidence that mite infestation is directly involved, although they may contribute indirectly by reducing the immunity of the bees.
New pesticides are another possible explanation for Colony Collapse Disorder. A new class of insecticides, called neonicotinoids, have been found to be highly toxic to various insects, including bees. In fact, research has found that the level of the insecticide found in pollen has had a delirious effect on honeybees.
A team of scientists led by the National Institute of Beekeeping in Bologna, Italy, found that polluted pollen may be one of the main causes of honeybee colony collapse. Bees fed with 500 or 1 000 ppb (parts per billion) of insecticide in sucrose solutions failed to return to the hive and disappeared altogether, while bees that had imbibed 100 ppb solutions were delayed by twenty four hours in their return.
Signs of colony collapse disorder were first reported in the United States in 2004, the same year American beekeepers started importing bees from Australia. It has subsequently been discovered by Hebrew University researchers that these Australian bees were carrying a virus. The virus identified in the otherwise healthy Australian bees has been named Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) after the researchers responsible for the discovery.
Although worker bees in Colony Collapse Disorder vanish, bees infected with the IAPV virus die close to the hive. Scientists used genetic analyses of bees collected over the past three years and found that IAPV was present in bees that had come from Colony Collapse Disorder bee hives 96 percent of the time. Scientific research continues concerning the disappearing honey bee and IAPV.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “The number of managed honey bee colonies has dropped from 5 million in the 1940s to only 2.5 million today. At the same time, the need for bee hives to supply pollination services has continued to climb. This means honey bee colonies are trucked farther and more often than ever before”.
Consider that the beekeeper of today, who is involved in crop pollination, must transport their bee colonies from one state to another several times each season. Therefore, tens of billions of bees are transported across the United States, in the backs of trucks, to pollinate crops every year. Researchers have suggested that this process is putting a high, abnormal level of stress on bees. This frequent change of hive location is known to stress and weaken bee colonies and it increases the threat of parasites and diseases among bees used in commercial pollination elsewhere in the country.
It should be noted that nobody in the organic beekeeping world is reporting Colony Collapse Disorder as a problem. Most people think beekeeping is all natural, but in commercial operations the bees are used for pollinating profit without much government oversight. So, it may be safe to assume that the current process of commercial beekeeping for industrial agriculture may well be creating the conditions of stress necessary for CCD to occur.
Mites, pesticides, virus, and stress are the four areas of primary focus among researchers trying to solve the mystery of the disappearing honey bee. It is fast becoming a scientific race against time to find a solution to a problem that threatens United States agriculture and the national and international food supply.
Albert Einstein once predicted that if bees were to disappear, man would follow only a few years later. Indeed, researchers need to find a solution to this worldwide bee problem very soon to insure that his theory is not put to a test.