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Colony collapse disorder

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, and were known by various names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, and fall dwindle disease), the syndrome was renamed colony collapse disorder in late 2006 in conjunction with a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of western honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies in North America. European beekeepers observed similar phenomena in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, Switzerland and Germany, albeit to a lesser degree, and the Northern Ireland Assembly received reports of a decline greater than 50%.

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Bees are disappearing all around the world. In the U.S. alone, beekeepers have seen over a 25 percent decrease in their bee populations between the years 1990 and 2011 (Sass). What’s happening is that entire hives, also known as colonies, are seemingly vanishing overnight. There are no dead bees found around the hives; they are just simply gone, sometimes leaving a very small portion of the hive and queen behind, but too small for the hive to survive. This phenomenon is known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, and is a very serious issue affecting our bees today. Unfortunately, the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is unknown, despite scientists’ best efforts. Scientists have been researching as to the cause, or causes, behind CCD for some time and yet have failed to find any conclusive evidence as to what could possibly be killing off the bees. Theories abound from neonicotinoid pesticides, to the varroa mite, to loss of habitat and stress, or some combination of these factors. Neonic pesticides are the seeming favorite offender in recent years, despite evidence that suggests otherwise. Neonicotinoid pesticides are neurotoxins used to protect crops against pests (Toothman) and are used heavily by farmers for the pesticides minimal impact on pollinators compared to other pesticides. Studies done on the effect of neonics have found the pesticides toxic and deadly to bees, however later reevaluations of the studies, performed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England, have concluded that the previous studies did not replicate realistic conditions that the bees would be exposed to and that in reality bee populations are at low risk from neonicotinoids. The inconclusive evidence surrounding neonicotinoids did not keep the European Union from recently passing a temporary two year ban on the use of the pesticides in April of 2013. In addition, countries Canada and Australia have found little connection between CCD and the usage of neonics. An Ontario field study failed to find any connection between the use of neonics and bee deaths (Arnason), while Australia is one of the heaviest users of pesticides in the world and has some of the healthiest bee colonies around. What Australia doesn’t have is the varroa mite (Entine). The varroa mite is the bane of apiarists, beekeepers, everywhere. While the mites are not deadly themselves, they help to spread and trigger diseases in bees when they feed on them. In an interview by California Heartland, Eric Mussen, a leading bee expert in the U.S. and apiculturist, says the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder appears to be pathogenic, based on how it spreads. If this is indeed the case, then the varroa mite could be playing a key role in the spread of the pathogen at the root of CCD. What does this mean for the future? Bees play a major role in the creation of the food that we eat. “Bees pollinate approximately 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown” in the U.S., according Beatriz Moisset and Stephen Buchmann. Bees pollinate everything from apples to almonds and their effect doesn’t just end there. The hulls of some fruits, nuts, and vegetables are sold as feed for livestock. Almonds, for example, are sold as cattle feed, the crushed shells become bedding for livestock, and almond dust is used as an additive to top soil (Toothman). It’s clear then that if our bee populations continue to drop that there could be some very serious repercussions beyond the loss of one of the world’s biggest pollinators. China was faced with this very dilemma and turned to hand-pollination to sustain their crops. Due to excessive pesticide use and loss of habitat China has lost the large majority of their wild bees (Goulson), and local beekeepers actually move their colonies away from the major crop farms to keep them safe from the pesticides (Tang, Xie, and Chen 13-14). The hired laborers are paid around 15-20 yuan a day, roughly $2.45-3.26, in addition to two to three meals and cigarettes, or in exchange for labor (13). However, finding the cause of CCD and preventing the loss of our bees would be the better option, financially and ecologically, in the long run. In the meantime to help support local, native bee populations there are a few things we can do. According to Beatriz Moisset and Stephen Buchmann, we can plant pollinator gardens that provide a variety of native flowering shrubs, trees, and wildflowers that bloom successively throughout the seasons. It’s best to use native plants to your eco-region as they require less care and are better adapted to the environment, they also maintain the floral cues needed to attract pollinators that more highly cultivated plants now lack (32). Choose non-chemical solutions to insect problems. If pesticide use is a must use and dispose of it properly, being sure to apply the pesticide before dawn or after sun down when pollinators are not active and avoiding the flower petals (32-33). Also providing a source of pesticide-free water, such as a dripping hose or a bird bath, helps attract pollinators and limits their exposure to possible toxins (33). Bees are an invaluable cog in the machine that is our ecosystem. To lose them would have wide reaching effects across our lives, requiring us to either lose a large portion of the food we consume or to pay workers to do the job that bees already do at a fraction of the cost. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we do all that we can to help sustain the bee populations we currently have while trying to find the source, or sources, of Colony Collapse Disorder.   Works Cited Arnason, Robert. “Ontario field study find no link between seed treatments, bee deaths.” Producer.com. The Western Producer, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. England. Dept. for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. “An assessment of key evidence about Neonicotinoids and bees.” Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Dept. for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mar. 2013. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. “How Bee Colony Collapse Disorder Affects Almond Growers.” California Heartland. The Huffington Post. Videos.huffingtonpost.com. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. Entine, Jon. “Science Collapse Disorder—The Real Story Behind Neonics and Mass Bee Deaths.” Forbes.com. Forbes, 11 April. 2013. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. Goulson, Dave. “Decline of bees forces China’s apple farmers to pollinate by hand.” Chinadialogue.net. China Dialogue, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. Moisset, Beatriz and Stephen Buchmann. Bee Basics An Introduction to Our Native Bees. D.C.: USDA Forest Service and Pollinator Partnership, 2011. Print. Sass, Jennifer. “Why We Need Bees: Nature’s Tiny Workers Put Food on Our Tables.” NRDC. NRDC, Mar. 2011. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. Tang, Ya and Jia-sui Xie and Keming Chen. Hand pollination of pears and its implications for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection – A case study from Hanyuan County, Sichuan Province, China. Sichuan, China: College of Environment, Sichuan University. Print. Toothman, Jessika. “How Colony Collapse Disorder Works.” Howstuffworks.com. Science. Web. 5 Jun. 2013.

Contributed by Rebekah Myers

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