Below are stories about honey bee losses not linked specifically to neonicotinoids, varroa & tracheal mites, or Nosema. Work done to help conserve honey bees is noted here as well.
For the most up to date information about bee losses in the U.S., visit BeeInformed.org: click here for their homepage. Their 2013 study has been added to their long term database.
“Report Bee Kills. Support Funding Evidence Kits”: 4 Aug 2014, Bee Culture
In 2013, the Pollinator Stewardship Council tracked bee kill reports from 13 states: 14,976 colonies were reported lost. In spring 2014, 89,000 colonies in 5 states were reported killed. The “piles of dead bees at the entrance, dead brood inside the hive, dead adult bees inside the hive, and often dead queens” suggested pesticide poisoning. However, “not all of the bees, wax, and pollen from bee kills was collected for lab analysis due simply to the cost: : beekeepers are charged over $300 to get dead bees tested to see whether pesticide was the killer. Bee Culture comments that “this is cost prohibitive for many, as that $300 is needed to replace that now weakened or dead bee colony.” More research is needed: “the real-world of tank-mixed pesticides, of ‘other ingredients’ in pesticides with unknown, un-tested toxicity levels, of pesticide coated seeds wherein the pesticide is often exuded through the pollen and nectar of the plant, are at the root of the health decline of honey bees.”
Bee Culture is asking beekeepers to donate to help them “provide 200 bee kill evidence kits and the lab analysis for pesticide-related bee kills. Support our work to provide the scientific analysis of the real-world pesticide exposure of honey bees in rural, suburban, and urban areas.” They also suggest that beekeepers ”send a letter to EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy requesting protection for honey bees and native pollinators, and cease the application of bee toxic pesticides on bee attractive plants in bloom with NO exceptions.”
To read more, visit: http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2014.08.04.12.34.archive.html .
Two new studies express conflicting findings about the healthfulness of feeding honey to bees:
“Feeding Honeybees Honey May Increase Mortality”: 27 June, 2014, BeeInformed.org
The Bee Informed Partnership survey results from 2011-12 and 2012-13 have turned up a surprising suggestion: “Feed your honeybees candy, dry sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, sugar syrup, wet supers or nothing at all, it doesn’t matter, you get the same colony loss, in this case, about 23%.” The survey data showed that dry modes of feeding – candy boards and dry sugar – had slightly lower losses than those feeding wet modes, including – surprisingly – frames of honey. In 2012-13, the survey – this time sampling about 557,000 colonies – found that “[t] hose who chose to feed their colonies lost about 45% while those that chose not to feed carbohydrates lost 36%.”
It should be noted that these data come from surveys rather than direct experimentation; it should also be noted that the honey feeding results may be connected to feeding bees honey produced by other colonies. To read more, visit: http://beeinformed.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/title-carbohydrate-feed.pdf and http://beeinformed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/6.CarbohydrateFeedSummary.pdf
“Scientists Track Gene Activity When Honey Bees Do and Don't Eat Honey” 18 July 2014, American Bee Journal and Bee Culture Magazine
New research shows “significant differences” in bees’ gene activity based on what they eat. The researchers studied “fat body” tissue – which, like our human liver, processes food and filters toxins – in forager bees, chosen because they have “higher metabolic rate and less energy reserves . . . . than their hive-bound nest mates -- making the foragers much more dependent on a carbohydrate-rich diet.”
Bees fed honey – as opposed to high fructose corn syrup (sucrose) – “had a very different profile of gene activity in the fat body than those relying on HFCS or sucrose.” Genes “that were activated differently in the honey-eating bees have been linked to protein metabolism, brain-signaling and immune defense.”
The study supports University of Illinois research May Berenbaum’s 2013 findings that “some substances in honey increase the activity of genes that help the bees break down potentially toxic substances such as pesticides.” Further, these results " parallel suggestive findings in humans . . . in both bees and humans, sugar is not sugar -- different carbohydrate sources can act differently in the body."
To read more, visit: http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2014.07.18.07.47.archive.html and http://us1.campaign archive1.com/?u=5fd2b1aa990e63193af2a573d&id=d031538bf5&e=e9ff21e0bb.
“Our Bees, Ourselves: Bees and Colony Collapse”: 14 July 2014, The New York Times
Mark Winston, a biologist and the director of the Center for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, urges human beings to study honey bee collapse to help us avert our own. “[A] core lesson from the bees that we ignore at our peril [is] the concept of synergy, where one plus one equals three, or four, or more. A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.” The writer draws a parallel with pharmaceutical drug interactions in people and comments: “[p]esticides have medical impacts as potent as pharmaceuticals do, yet we know virtually nothing about their synergistic impacts on our health, or their interplay with human diseases.”
Winston’s laboratory studied canola farms and found that “crop yields, and thus profits, are maximized if considerable acreages of cropland are left uncultivated to support wild pollinators. A variety of wild plants means a healthier, more diverse bee population, which will then move to the planted fields next door in larger and more active numbers. Indeed, farmers who planted their entire field would earn about $27,000 in profit per farm, whereas those who left a third unplanted for bees to nest and forage in would earn $65,000 on a farm of similar size.” Winston’s findings are about to be published in Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive. To read more, visit: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/opinion/bees-and-colony-collapse.html?referrer&_r=0
HR 4790, the Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment (BEE) Pollinator Protection Act, has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee for consideration: from WSBA Area 2 Rep. Franclyn Heinecke, 4 July 2014
Beekeepers may wish to read more about this bill, which would “amend title 23, United States Code, to encourage and facilitate efforts by States and other transportation rights-of-way managers to adopt integrated vegetation management practices, including enhancing plantings of native forbs and grasses that provide habitats and forage for Monarch butterflies and other native pollinators and honey bees, and for other purposes.” Since bees need diverse nutrition, this bill could make a major difference in expanding forage. To read the full text of the bill, visit: https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4790/text . For highlights of Franclyn Heinecke's August 13 talk at LCBA's monthly meeting, presenting her Master Beekeepers’ research on the crucial nutritive role weeds play in the honey bee’s diet, click here for our September 2014 newsletter.
“Believe It – GMO Bees”: 12 June 2014, Bee Culture “Catch the Buzz”
Earlier this year, we reported on Harvard University’s mechanized “Robobee”: now, the National Academy of Sciences has begun to manipulate the genome sequence of bees. Scientists inserted a “foreign” gene that “made some of the cells in the bee glow,” showing “that genetically-manipulated queens could produce genetically-modified drones in the lab.” The honey bee genome was sequenced in 2006: among other discoveries, “the genome is rich in genes associated with smell, but it has relatively fewer genes associated with taste and immune functions, reflecting evolutionary adaptations associated with their unique lifestyle.” Ideally, these new genetic manipulations may pave the way to helping bees combat Varroa mites, viruses, and other pests and diseases.
Genetically modifying bees is difficult “because insect-genome-modification technologies require physically injecting these technologies (usually bits of DNA) into honey bee eggs, having the eggs hatch and develop into fertile queens, and then getting the queens to reproduce. However, bees do not like having their eggs injected.” What enabled the NAS project to succeed was a special method that allowed that injection. To read more, visit: http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2014.06.12.07.55.archive.html .
“USDA Provides $8 Million to Help Boost Declining Honey Bee Population”: 20 June 2014, American Bee Journal
The USDA has pledged $8 million to help farmers and ranchers in the key summer foraging states of Michigan, Minnesota, North & South Dakota, and Wisconsin who “establish new habitats for declining honey bee populations.” The new funds supplement $3 million pledged by USDA earlier this year as part of the new Conservation Reserve Program “pollinator initiative,” which focuses on substituting better nutrition mixtures of seeds, so that bees have forage throughout the year. USDA’s concern is long term sustainability of U.S. crop production, since “[m]ore than $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including over 130 fruits and vegetables, depend on the health and well-being of honey bees.”
The USDA’s initiative stems from President Obama’s newly established Pollinator Health Task Force, cochaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy “to focus federal efforts to conduct research and take action to help pollinators recover from population losses. This includes a public education campaign to teach people ways that they can help pollinators in their own homes or businesses.” To read the president’s directive, visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/presidential-memorandum-creating-federal-strategy-promote-health-honey-b. To read more about the USDA’s program, visit: http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=5fd2b1aa990e63193af2a573d&id=e07d2e4a7a&e=e9ff21e0bb
“A Quarter Of Europe's Bumblebees, Vital To Agriculture, Face Extinction”: 2 Apr 2014, Huffington Post
Habitat loss and climate change have put 16 of 68 European bumblebee species “at risk of extinction”: almost half the species are in decline. One species, Bombus cullumanus, is now “critically endangered”: its numbers have fallen over 80% since 2004, and this precipitious decline is ascribed to losses of “meadows with clover, its favourite forage.” 3 of the 5 key European pollinator species are bumblebees, “contribut[ing] more than 22 billion euros ($30.35 billion) to European agriculture a year." The EU plans to take action, perhaps “scal[ing] up” not only research, but restrictions on pesticides.
Honey bee diseases may be spreading to bumblebees: February’s Nature journal included a study which found deformed wing virus in both pollinators in the U.K. Habitat loss is a key factor, though: since some of the bumblebee species in danger live in the Alps or the Arctic, where honeybees are few, scientists conjecture that those losses are not from disease crossover, but climate change “shrinking” the bumbles’ habitats. To read more, visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/02/europe-bumblebees_n_5075547.html
“Report Says Fewer Bees Perished Over the Winter, but the Reason Is a Mystery”: 15 May 2014, The New York Times
The USDA/BeeInformed.org annual survey, sampling more than 7200 beekeepers, has found that over the winter of 2013-14, managed bee colony losses fell to 23.2% nationally, in contrast with 30.5% in 2012-13. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist, said that while “It’s better than some of the years we’ve suffered . . . it’s not a good number. We’ve gone from horrible to bad.” Dr. Jeff Pettis, head of the federal bee research lab in Beltsville, Maryland, noted, “one year does not make a trend.” (American Bee Journal reports 18.9% as the “level of loss that beekeepers say is acceptable for their economic sustainability”; 29.6% has been the average annual loss measured since 2006.)
Researchers aren’t sure why bees fared better over the 2013-14 winter. Dr. VanEngelsdorp noted that over the past three years, colony collapse disorder – mass disappearances of bees from colonies – hasn’t been the main event in bee losses he’s seen in the field. Rather, he’s observed a witch’s brew of problems challenging both managed and feral bees: nosema, viruses, mites, pesticides, “extreme weather,” and “poor nutrition tied to a loss of forage plants.” What of neonicotinoids? Both Pettis and vanEngelsdorp see “the interplay of parasites, illness, food sources and pesticides” as critical to explore.
Of all strategies for supporting bees, vanEngelsdorp has observed that beekeepers who treat for Varroa are losing substantially fewer colonies than those who don’t: “those who treat them four or five times a year do better than those who treat them only once or twice.”
One silver lining in the bee loss story may be that “colony collapse disorder and other pressures have made beekeepers focus more intently on maintenance of their colonies,” according to Eric Mussen of the University of California, Davis. “People are being forced now to look more carefully at their bees,” he said. “If you don’t take care of them, you lose them.”
To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/16/us/honeybees-report.html?emc=eta1. For the full study at BeeInformed.org, visit: http://beeinformed.org/results-categories/winter-loss-2013-2014/ . A Dutch study, too, has shown declining honey bee over-wintering mortality: a phone survey among beekeepers in the Netherlands found only 9.2% losses, after much higher losses in recent years. Like the U.S. study, there was no one clear cause, though it was observed that beekeepers are paying sharper attention to readying colonies for winter. For more on the Dutch study, visit: http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=5fd2b1aa990e63193af2a573d&id=7b6be62e15&e=e9ff21e0bb
“USDA spending $3M to feed honeybees in Midwest,” 25 Feb 2014, Associated Press
Bees in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and the Dakotas will get a $3 million care package from the USDA: funds to help ranchers, dairy farmers, and commercial planters of corn and soybeans to “reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover” and other cover crops beneficial to bees as well as livestock. Farmers can also seek funds to protect the newly seeded pastureland from wear and tear by installing new fencing and water tanks; they’ll not only help bees, but benefit by lowering soil erosion and incursion of invasive species.
More diverse forage will help bees trucked to the Upper Midwest each summer after their busy season pollinating “everything from almonds to apples to avocadoes.” According to the USDA, “65 percent of the nation's estimated 30,000 commercial beekeepers bring hives” to the midwest for summer pasturage.
American Beekeeping Federation president Tim Tucker urged farmers and ranchers to apply: the deadline was March 21. Tucker’s 400-500 colonies summer in Texas and Kansas, but this year, he’s thinking of taking his bees to South Dakota: “the fields around his farm near Niotaze, Kan., no longer provide much food for them.” Tucker said, “There used to be a lot of small farms in our area that had clover and a variety of crops, whereas in the last 20 years it's really been corn, soybean and cotton and a little bit of canola," Tucker said. "But those crops don't provide a lot of good nectar and pollen for bees." Tucker’s “last ‘really good’ year was 1999”: he harvested over 100 pounds of honey per hive, as opposed to “42 pounds per hive” in 2013.To read more, visit: http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2014/USDA_spending_%243M_to_feed_honeybees_in_Midwest/id-d003e1d8761a4a72a590296fda4529b8
Also covering this story, American Bee Journal’s ezine reported how our tax dollars go to work to help bees: “The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) maintains four laboratories across the country conducting research into all aspects of bee genetics, breeding, biology and physiology, with special focus on bee nutrition, control of pathogens and parasites, the effects of pesticide exposure and the interactions between each of these factors. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports bee research efforts in Land Grant Universities. The Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) conducts national honey bee pest and disease surveys and provides border inspections to prevent new invasive bee pests from entering the U.S. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) and NRCS work on improved forage and habitat for bees through programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and EQIP. Additionally, the Economic Research Service (ERS) is currently examining the direct economic costs of the pollinator problem and the associated indirect economic impacts, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) conducts limited surveys of honey production, number of colonies, price, and value of production which provide some data essential for research by the other agencies.” Visit http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=5fd2b1aa990e63193af2a573d&id=f04ab4e2e6&e=e9ff21e0bb .
“Slovenian Government Adopts Resolution on Carniolan Bee”: 18 Feb 2014, Catch the Buzz e-zine
Fans of Carniolan bees will be happy to hear that Slovenia’s parliament is considering special measures “to protect [their] native bee from foreign species and preserve the purity of the breed.” The resolution seeks to promote 150,000 Carniolan colonies “through good exploitation of bee pasture, measures to reduce the loss of colonies to disease, sustainable health care and monitoring of the state of colonies and by encouraging people to keep bees.” According to Dejan Židan, Slovenia’s Minister of Agriculture and Environment, Carniolans comprise “a third of all bees in the EU”; he comments that “the Carniolan bee is the most sensitive bee species and as such also serves as an indicator of the state of the environment.” The Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association hailed the resolution. To read more, visit: http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2014.02.18.10.38.archive.html
“A Comparison of Honey Bee Colony Strength and Survivability between Nucleus and Package Started Colonies”: study conducted by master beekeepers in Maine in 2009-2010; published 2012.
In 2009 and 2010, two experienced beekeepers in Maine compared over-wintering survival rates between colonies of (1) new southern [southern U.S.] package bees, (2) overwintered northern [New England] nucs, and (3) new packages re-queened with northern [New England] survivor queens in 54 new honey bee colonies. Colonies were managed independently; the beekeepers monitored honey production, disease and mite load, as well as winter survival. Over the two years measured, “the adjusted data for survival revealed the following: 42% of the southern commercially raised package colonies survived their first winter strong enough to be a viable colony in the following summer. 83% of the overwintered northern raised Nucleus colonies were in viable condition, and 90% of the northern requeened packages were in viable condition the following spring. In our project, the Nucs experienced nearly twice the survival rate of the Packages. Additionally, the Requeened Packages also experienced a survival rate nearly double the rate of the ‘as bought’ Packages.” The researchers admit that their colony sample was small; they renewed the experiment in 2013. To read the details of their study, including feeding and medication techniques, supersedure issues, how colonies were included or disqualified from the study, plans for future research, and more, visit: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#drafts/14429bcf0b903423. To visit lead researcher Erin MacGregor-Forbes’ website, visit: http://overlandhoney.com.
Good news and bad news for bees and beekeepers in the new 5 year Farm Bill: 7 Feb 2014, Catch the Buzz ezine
Bees and beekeepers got some good news in the new farm bill. First, Congress authorized an extension of $20 million/year for USDA bee research. Second, the National Forest Service will have to take guidance from the USDA about permitting bees to forage on Forest Service lands, as well as about planning for good bee forage. Third, USDA is required to consult with the EPA and Dept. of Interior “to publish guidance on enhancing pollinator health and the long-term viability of populations of pollinators.” Fourth, under the USDA conservation program, land owners will be required to “emphasize practices beneficial to managed honey bees.” Fifth, the USDA has to report on whether we need “a national standard of identity for honey.” Sixth, USDA now has to report to Congress each year about work done to reverse declines in honey bee health, as well as assess how well federal work has done in “mitigate[ing] losses to bees and impacts to the commercial beekeeping industry.” Finally, the American Honey Producers’ Association’s proposed wording for “importation of plant incorporate protectants” was selected instead of terminology proposed by seed trade groups.
With good news, of course, usually there’s bad news. First, some key provisions of the pollinator protection amendment – which passed handily in the House – got shot down in the Senate. Cut from the amendment are the requirement that an interagency task force on honey bee health be funded and authorized to oversee legislation and permits – instead, there will be only an annual report “on how to better coordinate interagency work.” Also cut: wording that urged USDA to “conduct feasibility studies on research laboratory improvements in Baton Rouge and California” and to use “best available peer reviewed science” in making decisions – the latter may threaten undo much of the good news, insofar as those good news provisions depended on USDA action.
To read more, visit: http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2014.02.07.18.13.archive.html
Common Crop Pesticides Kill Honey Bee Larvae in the Hive [28 Jan 2014, American Bee Journal]
Four common pesticides have been found to kill not only fungi and pests, but honey bee larvae fed bee bread made from tainted pollen. Not only that, in combination, these pesticides have potent interactions that harm bees further. The Penn State and University of Florida study named “fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil and chlorpyrifos, as well as “N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) -- an inert, or inactive, chemical commonly used as a pesticide additive [which] is highly toxic to honeybee larvae.”
Chris Mullin, Penn State professor of entomology, said, "Our findings suggest that the common pesticides chlorothalonil, fluvalinate, coumaphos and chloropyrifos, individually or in mixtures, have statistically significant impacts on honeybee larval survivorship,” adding, "This is the first study to report serious toxic effects on developing honeybee larvae of dietary pesticides at concentrations that currently occur in hives." The team also found that increasing amounts of NMP corresponded to increased larval mortality, even at the lowest concentration tested.
Mullin noted, "Chronic exposure to pesticides during the early life stage of honey bees may contribute to their inadequate nutrition or direct poisoning with a resulting impact on the survival and development of the entire bee brood." Beekeepers who use fluvalinate and coumaphos to combat Varroa mites should be aware that these chemicals “persist within beehives for about five years.”
Jim Frazier, Penn State professor of entomology, noted that “Since pesticide safety is judged almost entirely on adult honey bee sensitivity to individual pesticides and also does not consider mixtures of pesticides, the risk assessment process that the Environmental Protection Agency uses should be changed" in light of these newly uncovered lethal interactions.
To read more, visit: http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=5fd2b1aa990e63193af2a573d&id=9e0cedc39f&e=e9ff21e0bb . Bee Culture’s “Catch the Buzz” e-zine has additional details: visit http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2014.01.28.08.18.archive.html
Honey Bee Losses Are Affected Pollination and Honey Harvests Worldwide
A series of articles shows the impact of honey bee losses on agriculture and honey harvests. First, in “Honey Bee Shortage Threatens Crop Pollination in Europe” (8 January 2014), BBC News reports that more than half of EU nations lack sufficient honey bees for 2014 crop pollination. Wild pollinators like hoverflies and bumblebees may help: however, they, too, are in decline, while Britain “only has 25% of the honey bees it needs.” In the EU, honey bee colony numbers actually rose by 7% from 2005 to 2010, in part due to a “boom” in biofuel production and resulting need for more pollination of “feed crops like oilseed rape, sunflowers and soybeans.” According to PLoS One, “the deficit across Europe now amounts to 13.4 million colonies or around seven billion honeybees” and raise concerns that protection of wild bees – “the unsung heroes of the countryside . . . doing work for free” – is urgently needed. To read more, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25656283 and http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-agriculture/europe-doesnt-have-enough-honeybees-pollinate-its-crops.html .
“Can smart sensors and citizen science save bees?” Treehugger.com, 13 Nov. 2013:
Open Source Beehives is working to enlist ordinary “citizen scientists” to help compile a worldwide data bank to help analyze bees’ problems and find answers. The Open Source website explains their goal: “to design hives that can support bee colonies in a sustainable way, to monitor and track the health and behaviour of a colony as it develops. Each hive contains an open source sensory kit, The Smart Citizen Kit (SCK), which can transmit to an open data platform: Smartcitizen.me. These sensor enhanced hive designs are open and freely available online, the data collected from each hive is published together with geolocations allowing for a further comparison and analysis of the hives.”
To see a video that explains how the project works, visit: http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/smart-sensors-citizen-science-save-bees.html.To read more, visit: http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/smart-sensors-citizen-science-save-bees.html
“2000 bees travelling 2000 miles in a flying beehive,” 15 Oct 2013, VITA Europe News:
Dr. Alexandros Papachristoforou, world-renowned Greek entomologist whose most recent work has focused on the Asian hornet’s threat to honey bees, has set out to teach Greek students why they should care about pollinators. He’s flying to schools all over Greece with an observation hive of 2000 bees. Supported by crowd-funding, he hopes to expand the venture to visit other countries in the EU.
Papachristoforou explained: “Honeybee populations are in decline and every young person needs to understand the implications of that in terms of pollination and diet. . . So we are embarking on our FlyBee venture to publicise the plight of honeybees and to educate the next generation. We are appealing to anyone to make a contribution, however small, to help us fly the word. We’ve had a test flight to a school — and the schoolchildren talked about nothing else but honeybees for weeks! It was a great success!”
To support the “FlyBee” venture, visit the crowd-funding website: http://tinyurl.com/2000beemiles. The online campaign ends on November 23. Vita Europe reports that “[e] very donation will receive special acknowledgement depending on value — from 5€ for your name to appear on a picture of a bee on the aircraft wings to 1000€ for a day’s flight on the aircraft and 3000€ for a two-day flight with accommodation . . . funds raised will go towards teaching materials, fuel, accommodation, aircraft maintenance and a new aircraft parachute.”
To read more, visit: http://www.vita-europe.com/news/2000-bees-flying-2000-miles-in-a-flying-beehive/
“Honeybee sanctuary status for Colonsay and Oransay Honeybees,” 7 Oct 2013, BBC News:
Two islands in the British Hebrides, Colonsay and Oronsay, will become a native honeybee sanctuary on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2014. No bees other than the Black Bee, Apis mellifera mellifera, will be legal to import. So far, the 50 black bee colonies on these islands have not been infested by Varroa destructor mites, and the new sanctuary status is aimed at maintaining their mite-free status.
The United Kingdom is home to 250 bee species: “24 species of bumblebees, 225 species of solitary bees, but just one honeybee species, the native Black Bee.” These black bees are known as hardy survivors, better adapted to the cold, wet Hebridean climate than Italian bees. The new sanctuary was green-lighted by the Scottish government after “overwhelming support” from the public.
To read more, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-24428707 .
“Silence of the Hives: America’s honey bees are dying in droves, and colony collapse disorder is the least of our worries,” 6 Aug. 2013, Pacific Northwest Inlander.
Deanna Pan’s well-written article provides a comprehensive overview of how commercial beekeepers and researchers have responded to honeybee dieoffs since 2011, featuring the perspectives of beekeepers Mike Durst, Eric Olson and his colleagues, as well as scientists Dennis van Engelsdorp, Jeffery Pettis, and Steve Sheppard.
Pettis, who works at the USDA, comments, “We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away from a pollination disaster”; van Engelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist, notes that “We’re right at the brink of having shortages of movable colonies in the U.S,” he says. “One in every three bites we eat is directly or indirectly pollinated by honey bees. … If we do have that [shortage], we won’t be able to produce apples, almonds and a whole variety of crops in this country.”
The story reviews earlier bee die-offs, the impact of bee population decline on commercial agriculture, and the array of potential culprits, such as “pesticides, fungicides, viruses, cellphone radiation, genetically modified crops, global warming and even, as the New York Times reported in 2007, ‘a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture.’ ‘Everyone was hoping for this one single answer,” says Washington State University entomologist Steven Sheppard. ‘But by about 2009, 2010, people realized there doesn’t seem to be a single answer. … There’s no smoking gun.’”
Sheppard and other scientists increasingly see “a combination of long-existing factors — pesticides, fungicides, pathogens, malnutrition, parasites and monocultures weakening . . . domesticated honey bees.” “One way to perhaps think about it is that it’s just been an attrition of quality of life for the bees,” says Sheppard. “The overarching and more important concept is the need to be concerned with colony health.”
The article gives a good synopsis of the developing neonicotinoid story, including questions about field-realistic dosage measures and the “Save America’s Pollinator’s Act,” introduced in Congress this summer by Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. after the now-infamous Target parking lot deaths of 50,000 bumblebees that foraged on linden trees sprayed with Safari, which contains dinoturefan.
Steve Sheppard [together with Whidbey Island Extension agent Dr. Tim Lawrence] is sampling pollen from both rural and urban managed colonies in western Washington in September to trace pesticide levels. [7 LCBA members are participating in this study.] Sheppard’s focus, together with Sue Cobey and colleagues at WSU, is strengthening honey bee genetics in hope of breeding bees that better resist Varroa, nosema, and other challenges.
“Tracking honeybees to save them: Scientists are outfitting the insects with radio transmitters to help identify trouble spots that threaten colonies,” 5 Aug. 2013; Salon.com; “Who, what, why: How do you track a honey bee?” 1 Aug. 2013, BBC News Magazine
One problem in researching colony collapse disorder is that bees “abscond” from the hive and vanish: as any mystery fan knows, it’s tough to perform an autopsy without a corpse. Another challenge, particularly for analyzing neonicotinoids’ impact, is how to track where, and on what, bees forage. Research groups in the U.K. and in Germany are trying to solve this problem using radio and radar technologies, and preliminary results suggest that neonicotinoid exposure confuses bees’ navigation.
In 2009, German researcher Dr. Martin Wikelski led a study at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany that successfully tracked bumblebees, attaching 3-inch transmitters that could detect radar over one-third of a mile: they found that the bumbles foraged “areas of over 100 acres” and made many repeat visits to the same plants. Wikelski urged using radio telemetry to track honey bees, too, in hope of “identify[ing] trouble spots where the bees may come in contact with the viruses, bacteria, mites, and pesticides linked to their premature deaths.”
Although the radio trackers used on the bumbles are too big for a 120-milligram bee, in 2007-08, an Australian study glued honey bees with radio-frequency identification tags [RFID, the same technology that lets Wal-Mart’s supply centers know from the swipe of a bar code that new items need to be shipped]. The tags weighed only 20% of the bees’ body weight. A scanner at the hive entrance picked up signals as bees came and went: it found that bees dosed with pesticide from an artificial food source “reduced their foraging habits and took more time to fly between hive and food.” Yet RFID tags couldn’t track where in the field bees went.
If a radio transmitter that weighs only as much as the RFID tags can be developed, Project Icarus, which will track small animals and insects from the International Space Station starting in 2015, could collect data about honey bees, too.
Meanwhile, in England, a new study using harmonic radar technology to track bees is revealing new information about varroa mites and neonicotinoids. An antenna that weighs just one-tenth the bee’s body weight is glued to its thorax, and a trackable signal is emitted by a radar transmitter. Scientists at Rothamsted Research, a government-funded research center in Hertfordshire, put antennae on the bees by hand: “test bees are prepared by gluing a small plastic disc with an identification number on to the bee's thorax using strong double-sided adhesive. An antenna is later attached to the disc, again using adhesive.” They catch the bees “by attaching a long plastic tube to the entrance of a hive. As the insects come and go two gates are dropped down, like portcullises, to trap one in-between. The antenna is removed the same way when the honey bee returns.” The radar blips show where the bee flies and let scientists map their flight paths.
One problem the researchers have yet to solve is volume – since the blips of individual bees could be hard to isolate, they track just one bee at a time, but they are working on “the next generation of harmonic radars which will be able to track more than one bee at a time.”
Early research has shown that “exposure to Neonicotinoid pesticides has been shown to affect a bee's ability to navigate. . . two bees were captured and fitted with tiny radio transmitters. At a feeding station, one bee was exposed to neonics. When the bees were released, some distance from the capture site, the exposed bee was unable to find its way back to the hive.” The study is also exploring how bees’ flight paths are affected when the bees have viruses transmitted by varroa mites.
“Pathogen webs in collapsing honey bee colonies,” 21 Aug. 2013, PLoS Pathogens
A new study by Jeff Pettis, Dennis Van Engelsdorp, and colleagues “suggest[s] a distinct pathogen signature” in honey bee colonies suffering CCD, marked by “higher levels of several RNA viruses.” These virus levels were significantly higher, as much as double the virus levels in colonies that died out from causes other than CCD. Further, the study suggests “synergistic impacts” on bee health when additional factors challenge the bees: specifically Nosema. The study “showed a significant positive correlation with a diverse set of RNA viruses” when Nosema was present. Finally, the study discovered two new “groups of RNA virus that clustered phylogenetically with Chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV).”
To read more, visit: http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publications.htm?seq_no_115=267552
“British Honey bee losses double in a year due to poor winter,” BBC News:
At LCBA's May 2013 meeting, we learned about BeeInformed.org’s survey of U.S. beekeepers, documenting 31% bee losses. The British Beekeepers’ Association, too, reports its members’ worst losses in their six years of keeping records: 33.8% in the wake of a “poor winter, following on from a disastrous summer.” Beekeepers fear that viruses and other illnesses have depleted bees’ resistance, leaving them vulnerable in times of pollen and nectar dearth. Further, “If the weather is changeable, a queen may not execute her mating flight properly . . ."If she doesn't get properly mated she can only lay drones, and if she is doing that, that's the death knell for the hive," said Tim Lovett, BBA. British bees also suffered from “isolation starvation: [b]ecause of the cold, the bees cluster very closely together to maintain hive temperature and consume the stores of honey closest to them. If the weather is so cold that they can't actually move, the bees will starve - although there may be plenty of food sources nearby.” To read more, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22861651.
“Bee rustlers add to misery of struggling hive owners,” 25 May 2013, BBC News: In Wales, struggling beekeepers have a new threat: bee thieves. Cardiff beekeeper Elaine Spence believes that these thieves must have experience with bees: "To steal a colony of bees, you need to know what you're doing. A person walking the street would not know how to come in and effectively remove a colony of bees. "They lifted the six frames out of the hive complete with the colony on it, put them in the box, shut the box up, Bob's your uncle, away they go, and probably as quickly as that.”
"All bee-keepers strive to ensure that their bees last through the winter: you care for them, they're a bit like part of your family, really. And to come and find that they have just been taken from you - it was really distressing," Spence said, though she added that "[t]he bees that were taken were a fairly angry lot - they even managed to put me in accident and emergency last year through stinging me, so maybe there might be some poetic justice." To read more, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-22660132.
“World agriculture suffers from loss of wild bees,” 28 Feb 2013, Global Post:
Are you fond of tomatoes, coffee, and watermelon? Research done by 50 scientists in 20 countries shows that these are among crops that may suffer most from the decline in wild bees and other native pollinators. Great though honey bees are at pollination, researchers at the University of Calgary noted that “Managed populations of pollinators are less effective at fertilizing plants than wild ones . . . so the dearth of [native] pollinating insects cannot be solved by simply introducing others.”
Habitat loss plays a key role because as diverse vegetation is removed to make way for monocrop agriculture, the “abundance and diversity” of the wild pollinators goes with it. Analyzing “41 crop systems around the world, including fruits, seeds, nuts, and coffee,” the researchers determined that, "paradoxically, most common approaches to increase agricultural efficiency, such as cultivation of all available land and the use of pesticides, reduce the abundance and variety of wild insects that could increase production of these crops." The study, published in Science, urges prioritizing restoration and conservation of natural pollinator habitats.
To read more, click here, or visit: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130228/world-agriculture-suffers-loss-wild-bees-study
“Winter honey bee losses and the resulting fewer bees per hive could spell trouble for almond growers in California,” 12 Feb 2013, Los Angeles County Beekeepers.com
Dr. Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist and faculty member in U.C. Davis’s Entomology department, notes that California’s 800,000 acres of almonds may not be fully pollinated this year – because of a honey bee shortage. “We need 1.6 million colonies, or two colonies per acre, and California has only about 500,000 colonies that can be used for that purpose,” he said. “We need to bring in a million more colonies but due to the winter losses, we may not have enough bees.” This follows 2012’s weak honey production, which, Mussen says, “could be one of the worst honey production years” since records have been kept. Not only that, “when we’re short of nectar, we’re short on pollen, and honey bees need both. So, 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.” Poor nutrition is one smoking gun in the ongoing colony collapse disorder mystery, along with Varroa destructor, Nosema, viruses, habitat loss, and pesticides.
Kathy Keatley Garvey, better known to some of us for her extraordinary photographs of bees, interviewed Dr. Mussen. To read more, visit: http://www.losangelescountybeekeepers.com/home/2013/2/15/honey-bee-shortage-alarms-california-almond-industry.html.
Resolving CCD Seen as Key to National & Market Security; New Treatments?
Yahoo! News reports that “[t]he Department of Defense has committed itself both to increase the CCD research budget and to offer sophisticated military technologies used to measure air, tissue and other pathogens in search of a potential cause of CCD. Those same instruments are normally used to detect deadly agents that might be used in chemical or biological warfare against U.S. troops in a war. . . . With the USDA estimating that Americans next year will import a full 40% of their vegetables from China, the problem takes on a true security dimension, as the U.S. already faces the prospect of being overly dependent upon foreign nations for its food supply.”
Yahoo also reports that several new treatments purporting to “cure” CCD are en route to market: Monsanto`s subsidiary, Beeologics, has a product called “Remebee . . . . now on a fast track for final FDA approval.” The other, an Italian product from BeesFree (BEES), “decided to skip the U.S. market and sell its BeesVita Plus remedy first in locales with less strict regulatory regimens. And so far, the strategy appears to be working. BeesFree quickly signed several large deals in Argentina and South Africa directly after the product launch.” To learn more, visit:
“Honey Bee Die-Off Shouldn’t Sting,” Feb 7 2012: CNN Money reports that despite honey bee die-offs, beekeepers and farmers have thus far managed not to pass along costs of bee replacement to consumers. Their reporter comments, “So while it doesn't appear to be translating into a food shortage or even sparking a price spike for consumers, the bee die-off remains a scientific mystery and perhaps a cause for concern about our environment.” “Perhaps”? Wake up and smell the coffee, CNN Money (and realize that without honey bees to pollinate the flowers of the coffee bean tree, you might not have morning Joe to smell). To read more, click here, or visit: http://money.cnn.com/2012/02/07/news/economy/honey_bees/index.htm.
"Cold Storage Keeps Bees Buzzing," 6 Sept 2012, King 5 News:
Yakima beekeeper Eric Olson, who over-wintered his bees in his fruit warehouse last winter, suffered fewer losses and is hoping for a repeat performance this winter. Click here for the story. Complete URL: http://www.king5.com/news/environment/Cold-storage-keeps-honey-bees-buzzing-168854076.html WSU is working with Olson to determine what aspects of his experiments were key to his success: click here for WSU's story. Complete URL: http://wsunews.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Release&PublicationID=30026
Agricultural Research Service Publishes Update on Colony Collapse Disorder: April 2012
ARS published an updated report on CCD: extremely informative with many links to other resources. Summary: ARS's report notes that though honey bee losses were less severe in 2011 than in 2008, 2009, & 2010, one year is not enough time to declare bees out of danger. ARS’s preliminary assessment is that a warmer winter (on average) and better bee management, particularly including feeding honey and supplements to bees in times of nectar dearth and in winter, may be responsible for the lower death rate.
The report addresses four major categories being researched as smoking guns in the CCD mystery: pathogens (like Nosema and viruses), parasites (mainly Varroa), management stressors (primarily transporting bees for pollination), and environmental stressors, which include poor nutrition and effects of pesticides.
ARS’s discussion of neonicotinoid pesticides highlights the mixed information so far available and flags sub-lethal effects of these pesticides as key to future research.
Those of us whose cell phones are welded to our hips will be relieved to learn that our communication devices have been all but ruled out as a threat to bees.
The report concludes with many links to new research and resources. A “must read” for beekeepers! Complete URL http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572
"Alkali Bees Threatened," 6 Aug 2012, Seattle Times:
This Aug 6 2012 article in the Seattle Times profiles the alkali bee, a native pollinator key to alfalfa production: these bees may be wiped out in a segment of Walla Walla County as an initiative to widen Highway 12 goes into effect. Scientists from WSU are working with local farmers on ways to protect the alkali bees. To read, click here. Complete URL: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2018863441_bee07m.html
“Why Bees Are Disappearing”: Technology/Education/Design Talk, June 2011
Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota professor of entomology and developer of the Minnesota Hygienic line of bees, appeared on TED (Technology, Education, Design) Talk to explain why a complex web of factors, rather than one smoking gun, is the cause of honey bee declines. One of her key points: “I don't know what it feels like to a bee to have a big blood-sucking parasite running around on it and I don't know what it feels like to a bee to have a virus. But I do know what it feels like when I have a virus – the flu. And I know how difficult it is for me to get to the grocery store to get good nutrition. But what if I lived in a food desert? And what if I had to travel a long distance to get to the grocery store and finally got my weak body out there and I consumed in my food, enough of a pesticide, a neurotoxin that I couldn't get home. This is what we mean by multiple and interacting causes of death.”
To see her June 2011 video, visit: http://www.ted.com/talks/marla_spivak_why_bees_are_disappearing.html