Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Colony Collapse Disorder - bees on the run

I've written several posts about Colony Collapse Disorder. This is a die-off affecting commercial bees. Bees seem to be dieing and outside their hives and not being repopulated. The unique feature of this is the failure to repopulate the hive (often when bees die, the hive will get hijacked by a nearby colony). In this case, the hives are generally left empty.

This is a major problem for farmers of various fruit crops, who rely on these commercial bees for pollination. Indeed, owners of bee hives will truck their hives all around the country to rent them out to farmers. However, over a quarter of the commercial bees in America have died over the last year, and large numbers of bees have died in other countries as well. If you've been reading about this in the news, then you've heard a few of the crazier ideas.

Finally, a voice of reason has spoken. The New York Times published a credible story today:

As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted, the rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven? Researchers have heard it all.
Rapture. I hadn't heard that one. But unlike Spiegel the New York Times actually asks some entomologists who are studying Colony Collapse Disorder what they think (what a crazy idea!). And what do they find?
Mr. Hackenberg, the beekeeper, agreed to take his empty bee boxes and other equipment to Food Technology Service, a company in Mulberry, Fla., that uses gamma rays to kill bacteria on medical equipment and some fruits. In early results, the irradiated bee boxes seem to have shown a return to health for colonies repopulated with Australian bees.

“This supports the idea that there is a pathogen there,” Dr. Cox-Foster said. “It would be hard to explain the irradiation getting rid of a chemical.”
Indeed. So it looks like we need to find what pathogen is causing this bee die-off.
Genetic testing at Columbia University has revealed the presence of multiple micro-organisms in bees from hives or colonies that are in decline, suggesting that something is weakening their immune system. The researchers have found some fungi in the affected bees that are found in humans whose immune systems have been suppressed by the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or cancer.

“That is extremely unusual,” Dr. Cox-Foster said.
Great. So there's also an immune system component, and may be a chemical (or chemicals) that are altering the immune system:
Among the pesticides being tested in the American bee investigation, the neonicotinoids group “is the number-one suspect,” Dr. Mullin said. He hoped results of the toxicology screening will be ready within a month.
Stay tuned.



Mark said...

I like it, now we're starting to hear some real science. The neonicotinoids makes the most sense to me, since from what I understand these are relatively now pesticides being applied.

The cell phone explanation was definitely the worst yet though. I think the rapture explanation sounds like someone with a sense of humor more than a real conspiracy theory.

The Factician said...

I think the rapture explanation sounds like someone with a sense of humor more than a real conspiracy theory.

Yep, I sure hope they're joking. I can't always tell, though. Bees being taken up to be with God is only *slightly* more ridiculous than the cell phone idea...

Phillip said...

Yep, I sure hope they're joking.

We were, but thank you both for visiting. When a CT gets too convoluted for its usual coterie of paranoiacs to absorb, there's always a convenient deity to blame. Have a good week.

Anonymous said...

More on Colony Collapse Disorder at http://activistmagazine.com/~695

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