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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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  • Re:please... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jimstapleton (999106) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @02:20PM (#18170282) Journal
    please tell me that's a joke.

    As the article stated, bees are very important for polination on many species of plants. In english: The bees help the plants have sex.

    Severly reduce the bees, and you have less seeds. Less seeds means less plants. Oh, and most fruits are just elaborate seed casings, so fewer bees -> fewer seeds -> lower fruit output of such plants -> lower crop.
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @02:25PM (#18170388) Journal
    I know you're joking, but a slightly warmer climate definitely can impact susceptibility to fungal infections, etc.

    I kept bees for quite a few years (in NJ) but stopped because of a mite that destroyed my colonies. My last extraction (in 2001) produced less than six pounds from each super, I had been getting 22-25 pounds in the early 90s. 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.

    None of this, by the way, provides any insight into why a slashdotter would keep bees, which is a mystery better left unexplored.
  • Inbreeding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zakarria (948686) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @02:32PM (#18170544)
    This is what you get when you breed monocultures of plants or animals. A single disease or problem that wipes out your entire supply. Trying to determine the specific cause is all well and good, but ultimately somewhat beside the point. If we don't want to have this kind of problem we need to purposefully breed for biodiversity so that one pathogen is less likely to destroy an entire industry. I sincerely hope the entire agricultural industry, and others, really comprehend what it is they should be learning from this and change their priorities a bit before the same thing hits say, the entire corn supply.
  • Re:Bee Monoculture (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aqua_boy17 (962670) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @02:37PM (#18170626)
    Um, not really. A typical independant bee keeper makes around $30k per year. Honey prices have bottomed out due to cheap foreign imports and the cost of keeping bees has tripled over the last several years. Now that hives are disappearing, I'm sure that prices will rise (supply/demand and all that). But I think your free-market jab is unfounded, at least in this case.
  • by Toffins (1069136) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @02:37PM (#18170644)
    Giant Asian Hornets [telegraph.co.uk] arrived in Europe in 2004 and are voracious predators of honeybees and wasps. There were two colonies of wasps in my family's house's roof space in summer 2005. In mid August, we suddenly started seeing giant hornets entering our house in the evenings after dusk (they have excellent night vision). I captured one in a glass jar to get rid of it and put it outside and measured its body length as 5.5cm. I killed another one that started hitting on my wife for no apparent reason. It was certainly a hornet. I also saw them entering the roof space through gaps next to the guttering. One week later both of the wasp nests were completely empty of life and we also saw no more hornets in the house that summer. A local entomologist said the hornets had eaten the wasps and then left in search of more food. Contrary to what the article says, I can confirm from personal experience that they do have a heck of a sting (in addition to a painful bite). Keep well away from these critters!
  • by goombah99 (560566) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @03:15PM (#18171340)
    No kidding colorado and New Mexico are being ravaged by bark beetles. Outside my window the entire canyon is 80% dead trees. I'm not exagerating. that's the official figure. It's expected many ski areas in colorado will be baren within the decade. he last few winter cycles have not been cold enough. On the flip side, the birds look chubbier. But they will leave when the trees are all gone. And after all the trees fall over in ten years the rocky baren mountain sides will look handsome. Right now they look uggly with all the black limbess sticks.
  • by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @03:18PM (#18171396) Homepage Journal
    Here in New England, one of the effects of the loss of honeybees has been a very visible recovery of native pollinators. At least it's visible if you have a garden and pay attention to what's happening there. In our yard, we've seen a huge increase in the number of bumblebees over the past few years. We used to see only a few per day; now in the summer you can almost always see several at a time. Of course, you don't get a whole lot of honey from a bumblebee's nest.

    Anyway, the local wildlife people have long considered the honeybee an alien invader, much like English sparrows and starlings. They were introduced to North America by humans, and have crowded out many native species.

    The natives are doing much better with the honeybees mostly gone. Now if we could find something that kills off English sparrows and starlings in large numbers. Honeybees at least provide honey, but nobody can think of anything that those two kinds of birds are good for.
  • by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @03:19PM (#18171408)
    My dad is was a bee-keeper as part of his duties as a park ranger and the bee populations have been dwindling like crazy here in the Southeast USA. The Varroa [wikipedia.org] are bad, but today the main culprit seems to be Small Hive Beetles [wikipedia.org] putting stress on the hives. They are absolutely devastating the bee industry here in the south, and it looks like they are going to take over the whole country. We tried to set my dad up with an apiary at home and we got everything set up, the hive, the supers, and ordered the bees. When they arrived, it was not even two minutes -- literally two minutes -- before the first beetles showed up and they just kept on coming. Their ability to find bees is uncanny. We tried many things to stop them or slow them down but needless to say, the colony gave up in the first few weeks. Heartbreaking.
  • by superstick58 (809423) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @03:20PM (#18171422)
    Actually, Africanized Bees can be a benefit to the overall Bee productivity. They tend to be more productive in areas with proper climate (warm, and lots of rain). Many places have learned to breed the Africanized bees into gentler colonies that are manageable. Once the bees are bred to a manageable state, the output from the colony can be better than the original European bees. They have after all been doing it in Africa for quite a while, why not in other continents too?
  • by ArcherB (796902) * on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @03:33PM (#18171624) Journal
    These days it doesn't get cold enough to kill them so they are just laying waste to huge swaths of the forest. =(

    I know it is offtopic, but the same thing was happening in East Texas. The pine beetle was devastating the forests there. However, a control method was found that stopped the problem cold. Whenever you found a tree that was infected, you cut the tree down. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration banned cutting down tree on national forests to prevent logging. While his intentions were well meaning, it ended up destroying forests. Like in the west where forest fires had no breaks to stop them, the pine beetle wiped out many national forests in East Texas. It was almost humorous to be driving along and see an empty field surrounded by wooded areas. I asked my uncle what happened and he told that the clear area was a national land while the area around it was privately owned. The private owners would spot the infected trees and cut them down, but since that was illegal in the national forest, the whole plot was wiped out.

  • by smokin_juan (469699) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:33PM (#18172750) Homepage Journal
    OK, this explanation [whatdoesitmean.com] may not be simple, but I'm putting it out here anyways because it includes factors that make an interesting story.

    You need to read at least 1/2 way through that article to get to the interesting stuff, but it basically says that radio waves in the 250Hz range [hypertextbook.com] will misdirect the navigation [springerlink.com]al function of bees. It talks about Russian bee studies and and the possibility of foul play by said Russians with mind control devices (250Hz also causes agitation in humans) and the like.

    Though that explanation is satisfying to me I'm sure there are people out there that would instantly deem this a conspiracy theory and reject it out of hand. In order to thwart those attempts I'll include a second theory - 240Hz is a subharmonic of our 60Hz power system and as electrical consumption increases so do the electromagnetic fields produced by the system... i.e. we've reached the consumption point of overhead power transmission that generates enough EM to dislocate the bees.

    If you'd like to keep bees you'll need a bigger Faraday cage.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @04:45PM (#18172928)
    BT corn is only going to kill caterpillars (corn earworms), not bees.

    I am very much against the use of genetically modified corn, in large part because it's likely to render one of the best weapons in an organic gardener's (or farmer's) arsenal ineffective with a decade. But the bacterium is specific to one particular family of pests - bees will not be affected by this.
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:06PM (#18173342) Journal
    I've bookmarked your link.

    I'm a big fan of the hugely bold honeys, like buckwheat -- sick of the watered-down tasting almond honey in the supermarkets.

    Blueberry is also a big one in NJ, nice flavor.

    I've a few friends in Connecticut who brew nice strong ales, they like using my buckwheat honey just before bottling for a little extra bottle fermentation. As soon as they figure out that it's more than twice as potent as sugar, they'll get the carbonation under control and win some of those contests they've been entering.

    Thinking of a buckwheat honey porter for next Christmas...
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:12PM (#18173468) Journal

    So if the Africanized Bees are also effected, the it definitely is not Global Warming.
    Yes, Africanized bees are affected. However, I think you miss the point, there are two factors at work.

    Yes, Africanized bees are more heat-tolerant. The red mites are one of the factors limiting their penetration into most of the US. However, non-Africanized bees in colder climates are also affected by the red mites -- and a streak of warm winters means these bees are having more problems with the mites. It just so happens that Africanized bees and red mites are two species affected by the climate.

    That said, the problems I experienced with mites likely has nothing specific to do with the subject of TFA -- it's just an example of how climate change can affect species viability.
  • by theEteam (1064762) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @05:30PM (#18173726)
    It very well may be Russian bees... from http://urbansurvival.com/nl20070224a.htm [urbansurvival.com]: (Saturday Feb 24th) Bee Story
    The collapse of bee colonies has something to do with Russia? Well, here's an email to ponder from a bee-keeping reader: "Hello George, Just a comment on the honey bee problems in the US. I agree that genetically modified plant-life may be causing many problems for the bee population. There is also another possible cause that non-beekeepers probably wouldn't know about. Over the years the honey bee population in the US has been greatly reduced due to attacks of Tracheal mites, Varroa mites, and Hive beetles. Two years ago, in an effort to replenish the bee supply, the government introduced a program to give away "Russian" honeybees. In the US, most beekeepers keep "Italian" honeybees. The "Russian" bees were supposed to be more resistant to the Varroa mites. The original deal was that selected beekeepers would receive (free-of-charge) 2 packages of "Russian" bees and 2 hives. In exchange the beekeepers agreed to not sell the hives for 3 years and to allow regular inspections by government officials. Due to an overwhelming response by beekeepers the deal was later changed to 1 hive of "Russian" and 1 hive of "Italian" bees. I did not take part in the program but I did keep watch on the results in my state. Within the first year (2005) all 250 hives of "Russian" bees that were introduced into this state were dead. I personally know two beekeepers who took part in the program. By the end to 2006, one had lost 43 hives to "Colony Collapse", the other had lost 200 hives (his entire operation) to "Colony Collapse" I don't know if there is a connection or just a horrible coincidence but perhaps the plants aren't the only things being "modified".
  • Re:GMO! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday February 27, 2007 @09:07PM (#18176380)
    I do think the GMO theory deserves a very serious look. GMO have been known to cause problems for butterflys: http://www.netlink.de/gen/Zeitung/2000/000919.html [netlink.de] .

    GMO organisms are artificial. These are DNA sequences and protiens that have been created in a way they never would have been in nature. Perhaps nature has a way of coding DNA in certain manners, and perhaps there are complex interdependancies between genes we dont know about, where if one gene is altered, it may have implications throughout the organism. Scientists claim to know what genes do, but they only know the tip of the iceberg, a gene may have numerous additional functions that they have no idea about.

    It could be that GMOs are fundamentally different in someway from natural food that makes them difficult to digest. Perhaps it causes a weakening of bee colonies.

    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. GMO food is unnatural food that has an unacceptably high risk. Usually i say it should be the choice of the consumer. This is so with food colours and additives. However, GMOs by their nature can contaminate non GMO crops where they are not wanted, endangering consumer choice and our right to whole, natural, and healthy foods. I do think GMOs should be banned for this reason, and the fact that non-GMO foods are natural and what we have been eating for millions of years.

It was kinda like stuffing the wrong card in a computer, when you're stickin' those artificial stimulants in your arm. -- Dion, noted computer scientist

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