Showing posts with label colony collapse disorder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label colony collapse disorder. Show all posts

Friday, August 16, 2013

Honeybees–An Endangered Species?

August is a honey of a month, not only because it’s the last month of the summer break for most school kids – and its departing will be such sweet sorrow – but because August 17 is National Honey Bee Day.  We’re celebrating the bee in a big way with a week of articles and info on honey bees and the wonderful, healthful bee products we can add to our diets, such as honey, bee pollen, and royal jelly.  In this article, we focus on the plight of the honey bee – a hot topic due to the sharp decline in bee colonies in the last couple of years that has endangered the American and even worldwide food supply.

Bee on flower

Colony Collapse Disorder – What happened

Roughly seven years ago, the massive dying off of honeybee colonies sent alarm through the American beekeeper community as they reported huge declines in the number of bees.  Countrywide, the beekeepers were reporting losses were from 30 percent to as much as 90 percent.  While bee colony declines have occurred previously in US history, nothing of this scale had ever taken place before.

Government estimates show the decline of managed honey bee colonies as half today the number of colonies in the 1940s, even as the demand for honeybee products has increased over the years.

Why the honey bee colony decline spells disaster

Left unchecked, a honeybee colony collapse of this magnitude threatens the survival of many crops, those that rely on honeybee pollenization to bear fruit.  According to the Agricultural Research Service, USDA’s internal research agency, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. 

But the loss is not just economic; a third of the food in the American diet is made possible through honey bee pollination. Many foods that can only exist with the assistance of bee pollination, such as:
  • Almonds and other tree nuts
  • Berries
  • Most fruits
  • Most vegetables
The loss is even greater though because many forms of livestock are dependent on grazing or grain-feeding of grasses and similar plants that rely on the honeybee.  For example, cattle are often fed alfalfa, but alfalfa requires bee pollination.  When you consider the related connections such as these, estimates on the number of foods we eat that are influenced by honeybee pollenization are as high as 90 percent!

Swarm of bees

What is causing the decline in bee colonies

Scientists have not yet been able to identify conclusively a single cause of the honeybee colony decline. However, research is moving ever closer, and indicators are that the collapse of colonies appears to be the result of numerous factors – a perfect storm of environmental stresses. These include the presence of parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and fungicides in the honeybees’ environment. They add up to conditions of environmental stress that affect the habits of the honeybee, ultimately disrupting their social system and making their colonies more susceptible to disease.

What can be done to save honeybee colonies

There are many efforts underway to give honeybee colonies a better chance for survival and, hopefully, a chance to thrive.
  • Along with their regular crops, farmers are being encouraged to grow groundcover plants that are considered bee-friendly, such as buckwheat, mustard, and sweet clover.
  • Almond growers in particular are being advised to grow groundcover plants along canal banks and roadways. Almonds are highly dependent on the honeybee, and such groundcover planting keeps the honeybees active and healthy during those times when the almond crops have not yet begun to flower.
  • Research continues on many fronts, including several studies by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, to better identify causes and, if necessary, outlaw the use of those pesticides or fungicides in farming that appear to play a significant part in the honeybee colony decline.
Can you make a difference? Yes! You don't have to be a farmer to make the world a safer place for the honeybee; there are actions that you, the common consumer, can do to help to make National Honey Bee Day more meaningful for you and your family:
  • Avoid indiscriminate use of pesticides.
  • Particularly avoid using pesticides in the middle of the day, as that is when honey bees do most of their nectar-foraging.
  • Seed your property with foxglove, the Palm, red clover, and other plants that encourage bee pollenization.
  • Consider becoming a backyard beekeeper.

Bee keeper

For more information about honeybee decline and steps that you can take (and that are being taken) to reverse the decline, visit NAPPC, the website of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, or see the PBS page How You Can Help the Bees

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer