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Bug Science

Vanishing Honeybees Will Affect Future Crops 322

Posted by kdawson
from the bee-gone dept.
daninbusiness writes "Across the US, beekeepers are finding that their bees are disappearing — not returning while searching for nectar and pollen. This could have a major impact on the food industry in the United States, where as much as $14 billion worth of agriculture business depends on bees for crop pollination. Reasons for this problem, dubbed 'colony collapse disorder,' are still unknown. Theories include viruses, some type of fungus, poor bee nutrition, and pesticides."
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Vanishing Honeybees Will Affect Future Crops

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  • by antdude (79039) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @03:23PM (#18170350) Homepage Journal
    Try this non-registration link [nytimes.com].
  • by Ynsats (922697) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @03:31PM (#18170520)
    Like most of the un-funny posts to this article already. However, you managed to hit on something that it seems the article missed. Africanized (Killer) Bees have been a problem reported by bee keeps over much of the southern United States for over a decade now and the problem seems to creep farther north every year.

    The problem stems from the Killer Bees infiltrating a colony of another type of bee and wiping out the colony. Since the killer bees do exhibit the same food gathering and other critical behaviors to pollination, the lost colonys have a bigger impact. I can see the fungus, virus, pesticide and other aspects causing problems in climates farther north but I would not doubt that Killer Bees could be a large contributing factor to this problem.

    It may seem silly but it is a critically important roll that the bees have to crop production. Many grains and vegetables do not require external pollination to produce a crop but there are plenty of other fruit and vegetable crops out there that do. The crops may not go away completely because bees are not the only way they are pollinated but they are one of the most efficient ways.
  • by dave562 (969951) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @03:36PM (#18170598) Journal
    The Beekeepers Quarterly had an article at the time suggesting that the red mite was limited in it's northern expansion due to temperature, but that a succession of a few warm winters allowed it to reach nearly all the continental US -- only a harsh winter will kick it back down south.

    I read an article about a similar scenario that is happening in Colorado. Some species of beatle is eating the redwoods. In the past it wasn't as big of a deal because the frost would come through every winter and kill the bastards off. These days it doesn't get cold enough to kill them so they are just laying waste to huge swaths of the forest. =(

  • by waterbear (190559) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:20PM (#18171426)
    Well, as another /.er who used to keep bees, I could point to some possible explanations that are simpler too:

    Hive-based diseases such as mites and fungi tend to kill bees in and around the hive.

    One common cause of bees failing to return home after foraging is poisoning by recently-applied pesticides. It's not pesticide use in general that's responsible, it happens more when a farmer applies pesticide close to when a crop is in bloom and attracting the bees.
    For just this reason, some agricultural pesticides come with instructions not to apply them within a window of time related to crop blooming, but like many instructions, users do not always read and follow them. If there is a new pesticide around, or a new fashion for how to apply an existing one, this could have big consequences for bee mortality.

    Then again, if the bees are not dying, but just not returning, this could be behavior based on the strain of bees. It could follow a change in strain chosen by large-scale bee-breeders and beekeepers. Colonies of some strains are bad at staying put in their hive, they tend to abscond, ie relocate, specially when short of stores and brood. Absconding is a bit different than swarming, where a nucleus of bees is left behind to carry on the old colony. Africanized bees, for example, are known as bad absconders as well as swarmers.

    -wb-
  • Re:Bee Monoculture (Score:4, Informative)

    by Incadenza (560402) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:22PM (#18172476)

    Here is a perfect example of the utter and complete failure of the American free-market mantra. A select few people raising bees were made richer with no economic consideration for the risk to the food production chain by adopting a bee mono-culture. Now what?

    Well, build your own.

    Doesn't work only for software you know. Just google for mason bee housing [google.com] and build your own genetic diversity tool from that old piece of wood you've got laying around anyway. And save the planet.

  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... m ['o.c' in gap]> on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:24PM (#18172532) Journal
    Wait a minute - you can see space and time?

    Sure, and with a little ayahuasca [wikipedia.org], so can you. Just watch out for the self-transforming machine elves. [wikipedia.org]
  • GMO! (Score:4, Informative)

    by cluckshot (658931) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @08:50PM (#18175694)

    It is the GMO's. Sorry for those who think that it isn't so. There is a 1:1 correspondence. The gene that makes cotton and other crops resistant to pests also infects their pollen and nectar. The result is that after a bee has taken its fill of nectar, it succumbs to the poison in the nectar. As such a crop bees that goes for the pollen and nectar of such a GMO crop is doomed. The French are RIGHT!

    This is another in the long line of accomplishments of the GMO people. Unintended consequences of their actions bring real problems. The GMO people always deny these problems. For example, they told farmers that weeds were the problem with their crops and the roundup resistance gene was used to end weeds all together. It worked too! But with the weeds gone there was nothing to prevent soil erosion in the winter. So the farmers in my area now have to plant winter wheat to protect their soil and then kill it when the drill in their other crops in the spring. In the mean time the cost of cotton dropped by nearly 2/3 of the total price resulting in farmers being hardly able to make any money. Their machinery and loans and GMO payments became their slave masters. This stuff of playing with mother nature isn't exactly working out like the economics professors said it would.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @12:19AM (#18177270) Homepage Journal
    There are several similar stories in the US. Some cities have found the hard way that eliminating various "pest" species, including pigeons and rats, leads to huge increases in the insects that eat the garbage that those species had been hogging for themselves. If you want to clean up such pests, you need to also clean up all the garbage. Pigeons and rats are actually much better at this than humans.

    There was also a story some years back about a farming area in California where the people decided to eradicate "vermin", which included skunks and foxes. They succeeded so well that the area was overrun with mice. It got so bad that people had trouble driving down the roads due to the slippery surface caused by all the squashed mice. When the story was written up, people from all over started offering to trap some of their local skunks and foxes and ship them out to control the mice. The folks there weren't too amused by these gracious offers.

    In our area (the western suburbs of Boston), a few years ago there was a heavy outbreak of lawn grubs that devastated most of the lawns. We and a few neighbors didn't have any problems, though. We refused to spray our lawns, and we have woods nearby. We started meeting skunks when we came home an night, and we also saw a lot of small "divots" where the skunks had dug up grubs. We pressed the dug-up grass back in the hole, and everything was fine.

    We did have a couple of incidents in which a young skunk claimed our back yard as his territory, and threatened us when we came home at night. But we found that we could calmly explain to him that it was ok; we were just going into the house. He reacted by slowly walking away, while keeping a careful eye on us.

    We didn't have any mice in the house that year, either.

  • Re:GMO! (Score:2, Informative)

    by tabrnaker (741668) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @01:53AM (#18177934)
    Wow, you really don't know how to read. Yes, the pollen is toxic, the page you linked doesn't deny that. In this situation we're talking about bees that intentionaly go around rolling in pollen, toxic levels would build up quickly. Learn some logical reasoning.
  • Re:GMO! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Joey Vegetables (686525) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @12:40PM (#18182414) Journal

    bees, humans, and so on have evolved for millions of years eating natural foods with DNA produces through natural processes. The further we get from those natural nutrition sources that are body is equipped to handle, the less efficiently your body may be able to use those foods.

    You don't even need to artificially modify the genome, to encounter ill effects from eating non-natural "foods."

    HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) could not be part of a genuinely natural diet, because it relies on an abundance of what we might falsely consider "natural" corn. This corn actually has been selectively bred for centuries to produce bigger and more sugar-laden varieties. And even with current varieties of corn, HFCS could not be produced in sufficiently large quantities, nor at sufficiently low cost, to compete with natural sources of sugar, except for the fact that it is highly subsidized by the GOP in exchange for the latter's near-dominance over the politics of agricultural states.

    But HFCS contains high levels of fructose, which, unlike other sugars, suppresses the production of a key hormone called leptin, which regulates appetite. This is currently believed to account for a significant portion of the increase in obesity of Americans, both relative to people elsewhere in the world, and also relative to previous generations of Americans.

    Our species f*cks with nature quite a bit. Mostly this is to our benefit . . . but not always. We should be much more careful about introducing rapid changes into environments we do not fully understand. And I say this even as an anarcho-capitalist. I don't believe in government solutions to private problems - or any other problems - but I also don't believe in doing f*cked-up experiments that affect the lives or property of other people without their consent. On that basis, I believe that GMO "food" should be clearly labeled as such, and should be grown in such a way that it cannot "accidentally" contaminate non-GMO crops. And agricultural should be neither subsidized nor taxed; markets should decide what is produced, when, and by whom. One result would be the eventual recovery of the miserable economy of Africa, which has been hurt greatly by agricultural subsidies in the developed world (especially the U.S.).

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