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CCD – Recent Bee Losses – How bad is it?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

John Gibeau, Honeybee Centre -

In the news over this past Easter weekend was the reporting of a 50% loss from some large beekeeping operations from California to central USA. Like many concerned people in the world, Grade 6 student Jasmine has written into Honeybee Centre requesting additional information on this potentially catastrophic issue. Following is the resulting exchange between Jasmine and Honeybee Centre president, John Gibeau:

Hello Mr. Gibeau,

My name is Jasmine and I'm a grade 6 student. A few days ago, I visited your store. It is a very lovely and interesting place and one of your staff members provided me with your card for further research about bees. I am interested about Colony Collapse Disorder of the bees and its consequences. If you'd be so kind, could you please take the time to answer the following questions?

How can we help to prevent Colony Collapse Disorder from happening again?

<JG>  CCD has not yet been clearly defined by scientists, so it is difficult to formulate a prevention. What we know, however, is that it appears that CCD occurs when honeybee colonies are exposed to a series of maladies and conditions, any one of which does not noticeably damage the colony, but in combination are deadly. These illnesses and conditions include:

  1. A mixture of pesticides that bees are exposed to over a long period of time, the most recent concerning pesticides is in the group referred to as Neonicotinoids, a neuro-active insecticide chemically related to nicotine.
  2. The Varroa mite that feeds on the bees by biting a hole at the base of the bees head and drinking the bees hemolymph.
  3. A fungus called Nosema that disrupts the bees ability to digest their food.
  4. Large scale pollination services where beekeepers rent their bees out to pollinate large tracts of land which damages the bees because they are subjected to stress caused by long trips on the back deck of a truck and are provided with food from only a few plant sources, thus they are not consuming a comprehensive diet.
  5. Changing weather environmental conditions

To prevent CCD each beekeeper needs to be aware of all of these detrimental conditions and treat each one as they appear. Following the same list as noted above, beekeepers could deal with each circumstance as follows:

  1. Keep bees away from commercial farming operations that use insecticides, particularly Neonicotinoids.
  2. Treat for the Varroa mite whenever it appears using organic methods.
  3. Treat for Nosema whenever it appears.
  4. Limit commercial pollination to one crop per year so that bees can ‘refuel’ on a variety of nectar and pollen sources.
  5. Anticipate longer-than-normal cold winters and protect the bees accordingly.

Where has CCD happened the most often?

<JG> It appears to have been discovered and concentrated mostly in central USA.

Where has CCD happened the most recently?

<JG> The largest recent loss is in North Dakota. The second largest loss that I am aware of was in Montana. Please refer to the following article.

What are some consequences of CCD?

<JG> The greatest direct consequence to CCD is the dramatic reduction of the number of honeybees available for pollinating crops, which can have dire affect on the amount of food available for people to eat. Without honeybees we would have less fruit, vegetables, and nuts. It could even be argued that without honeybees, we would have less beef as well, because beef feed on alfalfa which is a bee pollinated crop. Albert Einstein said it best, “If the bees disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more men.”

Why does CCD occur?

<JG> CCD has taken the agricultural community by surprise. The arrival of CCD was not foreseen, and even after about seven years of dealing with it, we still do not fully understand it. When looking for a reason why CCD has occurred it is easy to point fingers at corporate greed or global warming, but the reality is that it is a complex issue that has many smart people baffled.

Is it possible right now to have an artificial method of pollination?

<JG> There are ways to hand pollinate plants using vibrating tools or tiny paint brushes, however, on a large scale there is no substitute to replace bees or other pollinating insects and small animals. There is no doubt, however, that with the realities of CCD and other causes of a world-wide decline of bee populations, that scientists everywhere are working on artificial methods of pollination.

Thanks for your time.


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