Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pesticides Could Be The Key To The Disappearing Bee

A few months ago, a panel of experts told a House Agriculture subcommittee that the U.S commercial honey bee industry lost a record 36 percent of its colonies in 2008. This came after a dismal 2007, in which the industry lost 31% of its colonies.

The primary problem of lost bee colonies is due to the disappearing honey bee mystery called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that threatens the future of beekeeping and the health of a variety of important crops.

So, there was great interest in the room last August, at the 236th American Chemical Society Meeting, with the findings of Penn State Researchers into the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder.

Some of the findings of the research team were expected. It was not unexpected that since the Varroa Mite is such a serious problem for bees, that an analysis of beehive wax in every test hive would showed levels of the pesticides (fluvalinate and coumaphos). These chemicals are commonly used to combat the mite. Certainly, the fact that the levels of these pesticides were unprecedented was a reason for concern.

However, the shocking discovery of Penn State researchers was the finding that lower levels of 70 other pesticides (used to protect agricultural crops) and metabolites of those pesticides were discovered in the pollen and bees.

The findings of that Penn State study confirms the belief already held by many professional beekeepers. These beekeepers are convinced that pesticides could well be the key to unraveling the mystery of the disappearing bee. Their problem is providing the field evidence to prove it for several different reasons.

First, the variety of pesticides in use in many different areas reporting CCD makes it difficult to test for all possible pesticides simultaneously.

Second, many commercial beekeeping operations are mobile, transporting hives over large geographic distances during the course of a season, potentially exposing the colonies to different pesticides at each location.

Third, the bees themselves place pollen and honey into long-term storage, meaning that there may be a delay of anywhere from days to months before contaminated provisions are fed to the colony, negating any attempts to associate the appearance of symptoms with the actual time at which exposure to pesticides occurred.

As a result of all these logistical difficulties, providing evidence of the effect of various pesticides on bees has been very slow in coming. Still, finding more than 70 pesticides in the bee hive is a very important discovery.

Indeed, its now likely that pesticides could well be the research key to eventually unravelling the mystery of the disappearing honey bee.

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