Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CCD and What it Means for the Honey Bee

What is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)?

Colony collapse disorder: (n.) a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony disappear. 
  • Term was applied in 2006 to the drastic decrease in honey bee colonies in North America
  • Similar phenomenon observed in Belgium, France, Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain 
  • Significant because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by bees
  • Presence of capped brood (unhatched bees) in abandoned colonies. Bees will normally not abandon a colony until the capped brood have all hatched
  • Presence of food store, both honey and bee pollen not immediately robbed by other bees and when attacked by hive pests, the attack is noticeably delayed
  • Presence of the queen. If the queen bee is not present, the hive died because it was queenless which is inconsistent with CCD
  • Insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
  • Workforce made up of young adult bees
  • The colony members are reluctant to consume provided feed such as sugar syrup

Between 1972 and 2006, there was a dramatic decrease in the number of feral or wild bees as well as a steady decline in the number of colonies maintained by beekeepers. Factors contributing to this decline include urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites and the retirement or going out of business of many commercial bee keepers. Many researchers and bee keepers specifically believe that the introduction of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides in 1994 are the catalyst for the decline in honey bees. Neonicotinoid pesticides are absorbed into every part of the plant, including the root, stems, leaves and pollen. When bees pollinate, they unfortunately carry these harmful pesticides back to their hive which then decimates the colony.

While bee losses remained stable throughout 1990s averaging about 17-20% per year, bee keepers were reporting losses of about 30-90% of their colonies by 2007. In some instances, losses were so severe that the weakened surviving colonies were no longer able to pollinate or produce honey. In 2010, the USDA reported overall honey bee losses were an estimated 34% which was similar to losses in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The United States alone has seen its honey bee population decrease to 2.44 million down from 4.5 million in 1980 and 5.9 million in 1947.

Why Should We Should Care?
Honey bees are essential to the pollination of a number of important crops. For example, in 2000, the total U.S. crop value that was completely dependent on honey bee pollination exceeded $15 billion. Honey bees are primarily responsible for the pollination of one third of the United States' crop species including:
  • Almonds
  • Peaches
  • Soybeans
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Blackberries
  • Watermelons
  • Cantaloupes
  • Cucumbers
  • Strawberries
Many of these crops can be pollinated by other insects in small holdings in the United States, but usually not on the commercial scale. Beehives can be moved from crop to crop as needed compensating via saturation pollination for what they lack in efficiency. Therefore, the commercial viability of these crops is strongly tied to the bee keeping industry. So why should we care? Without a thriving bee population, produce prices could increase substantially and the food industry could lose billions of dollars. Therefore, we should care because a declining honey bee population, could spell disaster for the sustainability of many U.S. crops and could have a deleterious effect on the ecosystem.

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