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Did you know that every third bite of food you eat can be contributed to bees? The European honey bee is responsible for pollinating a third of all crops in the United States. They also help to pollinate many other flowering plants and have even been called a keystone species by some. However, in 2006 large quantities of honey bee hives in the U.S. began to just disappear. Entire colonies would vanish. The syndrome was called colony collapse disorder (CCD). Similar events began to occur all over the nation, and a single cause could not be pinpointed. Similar cases of large bee die-offs also began to be reported around the world. CCD is still a continuing problem, most notably in the United States, that could have huge impacts in biodiversity and our food stability. Scientists are trying to uncover a solution for CCD, but progress is slow. Colony collapse disorder is a growing issue in the United States that presents frightening agricultural problems which may be hard to cure based off of several possible causes acting together.
Cox-Foster, Diana, and Dennis vanEngelsdorp. 2009. Saving the HONEYBEE. Scientific American 300.4: 40-47. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 11 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to discuss possible treatments for colony collapse disorder. Since the direct cause of CCD is still unknown, many different treatments have been discussed. Many believe that the best option would be to give the bees a vaccine for such viruses as IAPV. This does not work in bees, however, because the invertebrate immune system does not handle a vaccine like other animals do. A new technique discussed is RNA interference. Short-interfering RNA segments fed to the bees in a syrup would inhibit the formation of viral proteins. This would block a virus from reproducing inside a bee's cells. An approach that may take a longer amount of time is to identify and breed virus-resistant honey bees. Many beekeepers have had some success at preventing colony loss by improving their colonies' diets, keeping infections and parasites such as varroa and hosema in check, and practicing good hygiene. Sterilizing old beehive frames with gamma rays before reusing them has shown to reduce the risk of CCD. This is probably because it kills microorganisms that contribute to the disease. Simple changes in agricultural practices such as breaking up monocultures with hedgerows could help restore balance in honeybees' diets, while providing nourishment to wild pollinators.
deWeerdt, Sarah. 2008. Pollination Panic. World Watch 21.6: 24-29. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 8 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to give the history on why we have become so dependent on the European honey bee instead of the native bees of the U.S. Modern industrial agricultural systems almost always heavily rely on honey bees for pollination. Commercial production of over 100 crops in the U.S. relies on honey bees. It has even become common practice for farmers to rent out hives for their crops to become more quickly and efficiently pollinated. Pollination use to be a free service by native bees before agricultural intensification. In the middle of the twentieth century, farmers began to use large quantities of organophosphate insecticides, plant large-scale crop monocultures, and adopt "clean farming" practices. Many native bees were killed through these practices and made the agricultural landscape inhospitable to the ones that survived. This is what put a reliance on imported European honey bees.
Ellwood, Wayne. 2009. Why are they dying?. New Internationalist 425: 4-7. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 9 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to give a general background of CCD in America. Mass bee die-offs first occurred in America in 2006. The first well known case was in Florida when 400 hives of bees being rented out to pollinate pepper crops were wiped out. The odd thing was that there were hardly any dead bees around. The bees just disappeared. This syndrome was given the name colony collapse disorder or CCD. CCD began to spread across the U.S. after that. By 2007 a fourth of all US beekeepers had been affected by CCD and more than 30 percent of all bee colonies had been wiped out. Reports of die-offs have also come from Australia, Canada, Brazil, China, Europe and other regions. America continues to be the hardest hit, though. These events are so alarming because the species of bee mainly being affected (Apis mellifera, also known as the European honeybee) is essential for agriculture all across the world. The article states that, "A third of our diet comes from flowering crops and honeybees are responsible for pollinating about 80 per cent of them". Bees have been called a keystone species. Removing them can disrupt the whole food chain. Some evidence has already shown that native bees (bumblebees, alkali bees, mason bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, etc) and other pollinators like moths, butterflies, bats and humming birds are also declining. The worst part is that the cause cannot be pinpointed. Things such as diseases and pesticides have been suspected but a single cause has not been determined yet.
Garnham, Peter. 2009. Pollinators. Horticulture 106.4: 15. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 12 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to specifically highlight the alternative species of bees that could possibly replace honey bee pollination. Gardeners and farmers may not be able to rely on honey bees for pollination much longer. There are, however, other species of wild bees that can be used for pollination. Most of them are solitary which makes them less susceptible to CCD as well. Mason bees (Osmia species) are very efficient garden pollinators. 500 mason bees can do the same amount of work as 100,000 honey bees. They will pollinate many tree fruits and other crops. They are also not aggressive. Leafcutter bees (Megachile species) are also a gentle and solitary bee species. 150 leafcutter bees can do the same amount of work as 3,000 honey bees. Bumblebees (Bombus species) are a social bee, but their colony size is only around 500. Bumblebees work harder than honey bees and can work in cooler temperatures. They pollinate tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, and are the only pollinator of potatoes.
Hackett, Kevin J. 2004. Bee Benefits to Agriculture. Agricultural Research 52.3: 2. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 11 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to show the contributions of honey bees to the U.S. to reinforce their importance to us. A third of all crops in the U.S. depends on pollination by honey bees. The value of honey bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is more than $14 billion annually. Crops such as nuts, alfalfa, apple, cantaloupe, cranberry, pumpkin, sunflower, vegetables, and many others require pollinating by honey bees. Fruit and nut crops can heavily rely on honey bee pollination. The maximum number of fruits produced is a result of the extent of pollination. They also pollinate more than 16 percent of the flowering plant species. Of course, honey bees also produce honey. More than $130 million worth of raw honey was produced in 2002 in the United States. The odd thing is that honey bees are not even native to the U.S. But then again, most of our crops and many of our garden plants aren't native either. They evolved where honey bees were native. Both crops and bees were brought here to become a part of our agricultural system.
Kimble-Evans, Amanda. 2009. Are Potent Pesticides Killing Honeybees?. Mother Earth News 236: 16. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 8 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to discuss a very likely contributor to CCD, pesticides. Many are arguing about the effects of neonicotinoids (a class of widely used pesticide) on honey bees and other pollinators. The two neonicotinoids that are most toxic to bees are imidacloprid and clothianidin. The pesticides cause memory loss, navigation disruption, paralysis, and death in bees. A study from Italy has showed that honeybees may be ingesting neonicotinoids at levels 1,000 times higher than the levels found in nectar or pollen through droplets of water from corn leaves grown from pesticide-coated seeds. Penn State Researchers believe that sub-lethal doses of the pesticide are impairing bees' behavior and lowering their immune systems. Usage of the pesticides has increased, but not much in the way of regulation has been done. The Colony Collapse Disorder Working Team was formed in 2007 to try and find causes of CCD. They found 170 different chemicals when testing hives for pesticides, and some individual pollen samples contained as many as 35 different compounds. Pesticides are not believed to be the sole cause of CCD but definitely a contributor to it. The real cause may be a combination of pest, viral, fungal, chemical, and stress factors.
Oldroyd, Benjamin P. 2007. What's Killing American Honey Bees?. PLoS Biology 5.6: e168. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 9 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to inform of all the basic possible causes of colony collapse disorder. The first possible cause mentioned is parasites. A parasite that is a very possible contributor to CCD is a Tarsonemid mite, Acarapis woodi. It infests the tracheas of adult bees and is widespread in North America. Another possible cause is in-hive chemicals. A chemical known as Apistan is used in hives to kill a small, parasitic beetle (V. destructor). However, the beetle continues to grow a resistance to the chemical and doses are continually increased. These chemicals may be accumulating in comb wax and hurting the life span of worker bees. Changing cultural practices may be contributing to CCD. Honey is now not the only reason for keeping bees. Beekeepers are now beginning to lease their hives to farmers so as to more quickly pollinate their crops. Once bees are removed from the crops they must be put into an area where they can feed on high quality pollen in order to restore their protein levels. This does not always occur which puts nutritional stress on the bees. Studies have shown that CCD is more common in colonies that are leased for pollination than those that aren't. Another possible cause stated was changing brood temperatures. Honey bees maintain their brood nests within plus or minus of 0.5 Â°C of 34.5 Â°C. Learning and memory can be affected if broods are incubated outside of this range. A possible cause of hive temperature changes is global warming.
Watanabe, Myrna E. 2008. Colony Collapse Disorder: Many Suspects, No Smoking Gun. Bioscience 58.5: 384-388. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 9 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to expand on one of the more possible contributors of colony collapse disorder, Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV). IAPV is still not known to be a sure cause of CCD but it is definitely a marker for it. Hives suffering from CCD often show traces of IAPV when tested. The virus was first described in Israel in 2004 and has been present in the U.S. since 2006. It is often wondered how the virus invades hives. One possible answer is through the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) that dwells in bee hives is a carrier for IAPV. The odd thing is that the beetle carries the virus all throughout the world but only devastates hives in North America. Another possibility is that IAPV infected bees may have come from Australia in 2005 when Australian honey bees were imported into America to provide more pollination for almond tree crops. This is supported by the fact that the Australian virus sequence matches sequences of the virus found in U.S. states.
Tangley, Laura. 2009. The Buzz on Native Pollinators. National Wildlife 47.4: 40-46. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 11 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to inform that native pollinators of the U.S. may be able to make up for the loss of honey bees. Ecologist Rachel Winfree went out to the Delaware Valley of New Jersey and Pennsylvania to survey bee diversity. Not much was expected since bee loss has been so heavy. Instead she found 46 different species. She also found that the number of flower visits by these native bees was enough to fully pollinate the watermelon crop on 21 of 23 farms in the region. This showed that honeybees are not always the primary pollinator to be relied upon. Wild bees actually contribute to the pollination of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, peppers, tomatoes, alfalfa and squash. These wild bees are not the only pollinators, though. Wild pollinators include birds, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies and even mammals or reptiles. Bees do contribute the most vastly, though. The native bees do not live in hives like honey bees do. They are solitary and nest in burrows in the ground or small holes in wood. There are 4,000 different species of bees in North America. Native bees in the U.S. have been estimated to perform $3 billion worth of pollination services each year. However, even though these native pollinators are not as in steep a decline as the honey bee, they are still declining. A cause is still not known, but it is hoped that it will not become as severe as CCD.
1998. The Potential Consequences of Pollinator Declines on the Conservation of Biodiversity and Stability of Food Crop Yields. Conservation Biology 12.1: 8-17. (Accessed at Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 11 Mar. 2011.)
This article will be used to show the importance of bees by explaining the consequences if they were to vanish. On a community level, bees can be very ecologically important. Their disappearance could change the entire structure of biotic communities. Keystone plant species may go unpollinated which would hurt the entire food web. In one documented case, the impact of pesticide use on pollinators was measured. It resulted in lower blueberry yields, which then affected a variety of organisms from small birds and bears to humans. All predators of bees would be impacted by their loss. Another consequence of bee loss would be a decline in food stability. Crop yield reductions have already occurred due to pollinator loss. A yield decline of almond orchards in California and of blueberries in New Brunswick has been attributed to bee loss. The quality of harvest is also affected by pollinator loss. Misshapen or small fruit are the result. Honey bee declines have been estimated to cost $5.7 billion a year in agriculture. The effects of bee loss on biotic communities and food stability may not be easily reversible. Remedies may not even be possible.