[permaculture] What's happening to the bees? - Yahoo! News

J. Kolenovsky garden at hal-pc.org
Wed Apr 4 23:36:51 EDT 2007


Although I just started following stuff like this about 15 years ago,
this type of analysis and awareness seems to be be just occurring in
this decade. At least that's how it seems to me.

"For many entomologists, the bee crisis is a wake-up call. By relying on
a single species for pollination, US agriculture has put itself in a
precarious position, they say. A resilient agricultural system requires
diverse pollinators. This speaks to a larger conservation issue. Some
evidence indicates a decline in the estimated 4,500 potential alternate
pollinators ? native species of butterflies, wasps. and other bees. The
blame for that sits squarely on human activity ? 
habitat loss, pesticide use, and imported disease ? but much of this
could be offset by different land-use practices."

It gets down to DIVERSITY and natural eco-systems. My God, are their
some people (besides us) that are starting to get the big picture? It's
about time. "The blame sits entirely on human activity". You bet!  I
hope all the GMO companies are bombed out of business because we don't
need the igmo's to consider that food supply as the last resort.
Different-land use practices. Yeah, vertical construction, not
horizontal.

Hey, I'm not a pessimist but is there anyone out there that can inject a
bit of good news about the future? Or will the good news come after a
predicted die-off? 

J


Message: 9
Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2007 23:03:42 -0400
From: "Lawrence F. London, Jr." <lfl at intrex.net>
Subject: [permaculture] What's happening to the bees? - Yahoo! News
To: permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
Message-ID: <4614670E.1070805 at intrex.net>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252; format=flowed


<http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/cbee;_ylt=AsXOA4c_u.mLxec7aUbQAuJhr7sF>
What's happening to the bees?

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff, Correspondent of The Christian Science
Monitor Wed Apr 4, 4:00 AM ET

Beekeeper James Doan first began finding empty hives last fall. Entire
bee colonies seemed to have up and vanished, 
leaving their honey behind. Noting the unusually wet fall in Hamlin,
N.Y., he blamed the weather. Unable to forage in 
the rain, the bees probably starved, he reasoned.

But when deserted hives began appearing daily, "we knew it was something
different," he says. Now, at the beginning of 
the 2007 pollination season, more than half of his 4,300 hives are gone.
"I'm just about ready to give up," says Mr. 
Doan from his honeybee wintering site in Ft. Meade, Fla. "I'm not sure I
can survive."

The cause of the die-offs has yet to be determined. Its effect on the
food supply may be significant. Longer-term, it 
may also force a rethinking of some agricultural practices including our
heavy reliance on human-managed bees for 
pollination.

Scientists call it "colony collapse disorder" (CCD). First reported in
Florida last fall, the problem has since spread 
to 24 states. Commercial beekeepers are reporting losses of between 50
and 90 percent, an unprecedented amount even for 
an industry accustomed to die-offs.

Many worry that what's shaping up to be a honeybee catastrophe will
disrupt the food supply. While staple crops like 
wheat and corn are pollinated by wind, some 90 cultivated flowering
crops ? from almonds and apples to cranberries and 
watermelons ? rely heavily on honeybees trucked in for pollinization.
Honeybees pollinate every third bite of food 
ingested by Americans, says a Cornell study. Bees help generate some $14
billion in produce.

Research is only beginning and hard data is still lacking, but
beekeepers suspect everything from a new virus or 
parasite to pesticides and genetically modified crops. Scientists have
hastily established a CCD working group at 
Pennsylvania State University. Last week, the US House of
Representatives' Committee on Agriculture held hearings on the 
missing bees.

For many entomologists, the bee crisis is a wake-up call. By relying on
a single species for pollination, US agriculture 
has put itself in a precarious position, they say. A resilient
agricultural system requires diverse pollinators. This 
speaks to a larger conservation issue. Some evidence indicates a decline
in the estimated 4,500 potential alternate 
pollinators ? native species of butterflies, wasps. and other bees. The
blame for that sits squarely on human activity ? 
habitat loss, pesticide use, and imported disease ? but much of this
could be offset by different land-use practices.

Moving away from monoculture, say scientists, and having something
always flowering within bee-distance, would help 
natural pollinators. This would make crops less dependent on trucked-in
bees, which have proved to be vulnerable to 
die-offs.

The stress on honeybees grew as native and wild pollinators diminished
and farmers came to rely more on honeybees. We've 
put "all of our pollination eggs in the honeybee basket," says Mace
Vaughan, conservation director of the Xerces Society 
for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Ore. "We need more baskets."

An immune-system disorder?
Meanwhile, beekeepers are seeing hives empty in a matter of weeks,
sometimes days. The entire adult bee population 
vanishes, except for a few juveniles. This makes CCD difficult to study.
"You have a crime scene, you know a crime 
happened here, but you don't really have evidence," says Medhat Nasr,
provincial apiculturalist in Alberta, Canada. 
Eerily, the stored honey in the hive remains untouched. Raiding bees
from nearby colonies never materialize, as is common.

Records of suddenly empty hives go back as far as the late 1800s, but
never on this scale. Beekeepers dubbed it "autumn 
collapse," "spring dwindle," or "disappearing disease." But Dennis
vanEngelsdorp, the acting Penn State apiarist, calls 
this manifestation the
AIDS of bees. The remaining juvenile bees appear to be rife with
disease. To him, "It's clear that there is an immune 
suppression," he says.

What might suppress a bee's immune system is anyone's guess. But many
ascribe to a tipping-point theory: A variety of 
factors may have accumulated until a single straw finally broke the
bee's back.

A review of honeybee history shows many suspects. The Varroa mite,
native to Asia, came to North America in the late 
1980s. Since then, yearly losses of between 15 and 20 percent have
become the norm. "Before the mites, you could be a 
bee-have-er," says Mr. vanEngelsdorp. "Now you have to be a
bee-keep-er."

Beekeepers are the first to acknowledge the stress of migratory
pollination. Carted on flatbed trucks from wintering 
sites in the South, the bees crisscross the continent, first to
California's almond groves, which rely entirely on 
honeybees for pollination, and then northward throughout the country,
following the spring flowering season. Farmers 
have come to rely increasingly on honeybee services, says May Berenbaum,
head of the department of entomology at the 
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "Given its economic
importance, beekeeping really hasn't gotten the attention 
it deserves," she says.

Poor nutrition may be another factor, says Mr. Vaughan. To prepare them
for winter, bees are fed high-fructose corn 
syrup and protein supplements. In the fields they've pollinated,
meanwhile, more often than not they've gathered only 
one kind of pollen. Maybe, like other animals, they need a diverse diet,
he says. "If you only ate McDonald's every day, 
you'd be just like that guy in 'Super Size Me,' " he says. "And he
didn't feel that good."

Others, like Doan, suspect pesticides.

Similar problem in 1990s France
In the 1990s, France experienced a precipitous honeybee decline from
"mad bee disease." Honey production dropped by 
nearly one-third, to 25,000 tons. French beekeepers blamed a newly
introduced pesticide marketed under the name Gaucho. 
 From the same family as nicotine, the chemical targeted aphids'
navigational systems. And when the honeybees weren't 
finding their way home, either, French beekeepers protested. The French
government banned the product in 1999. Though 
subsequent studies haven't found a strong link, bee populations still
haven't rebounded to previous levels.

Others point to genetically modified crops ? specifically, those with a
gene for a bacterial toxin called Bt. Initial 
studies indicated that it didn't affect bees. But some beekeepers argue
the trials didn't last long enough to determine 
the long-term effects. (Doan says the same about the nicotinelike
pesticides.) A German study supports this. Scientists 
at the University of Jena found that while Bt food had no direct effect
on bees, when fed to bee populations infected 
with parasites, they quickly became diseased. Alone, Bt may do nothing.
But in the presence of a parasite, it may 
facilitate infection.

"Maybe these toxins weaken the immune system," says John McDonald, a
retired biologist and hobby apiculturalist in 
Spring Mills, Pa., who wrote an editorial on the topic for the San
Francisco Chronicle

But the shrinking of our so-called "pollination portfolio" is of more
concern to many entomologists than a die-off in 
commercial beehives. A 2006
National Academy of Sciences report declared that there was "direct
evidence for decline of some pollinator species in 
North America" ? species responsible for pollinating three-quarters of
flowering plants. Europeans have documented a 
parallel decline in their natural pollinators for years.

On the US East Coast, where a more ecologically diverse farming
landscape enhances species diversity, studies have shown 
that wild pollinators were doing about 90 percent of the pollinating
anyway, says Neal Williams, an assistant professor 
of biology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. "It seems a little bit
silly from a whole-country perspective, even 
from a farmer perspective, that we would place so much emphasis on one
species. We don't do that with any other part of 
the economy," he says.

Meanwhile, a Canadian study suggests that if canola farmers leave 30
percent of their land fallow, they will increase 
their yields. Wild land provides habitat for native pollinators,
improving pollination and increasing the number of 
seeds. "If we cultivate all the land, we lose ecosystem services like
pollination," says Lora Morandin, lead author on 
the study. "Healthy, sustainable agricultural systems need to include
natural land."



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