Honey bees tagged with RFID chips
The mysterious drop in honey bee populations—often called colony collapse disorder for lack of a more specific name—has generated a long list of suspects that includes mites, viruses, malnutrition, and even cell phone radiation. Two new studies published in Science suggest that neonicotinoids, a class of widely used insecticides, may belong at the top of the list.
That an insecticide kills insects like bees is not particularly surprising. Neonicotoinoids have already been partially banned in Italy, Germany, and France for their possible role in colony collapse disorder. Still, it remains one of the most common pesticides: one neonicotoinid alone, imidacloprid, is authorized for use on over 140 crops in 120 countries. Results from the two new studies suggest that even doses that do not kill the bee immediately can have enough ill effect to eventually cause colony collapse.
Don’t you forget about bumblebees. While DISCOVER and others have extensively covered the mysterious colony collapse disorder that’s been crashing honeybee populations around the world, bumblebees have not escaped the tide of doom.
Sydney Cameron leads a team that just published a new study of bumblebees in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and tallied up some scary numbers.
The relative abundance of four species of bumble bees over the past few decades has dropped by more than 90%—and those disappearing species are also suffering from low genetic diversity, which makes them that much more susceptible to disease or any other environmental pressures. [TIME]
In addition, the geographic ranges of those species shrunk precipitously—between 23 and 87 percent, depending upon the case. That reduction in range could have catastrophic impacts on agriculture:
More trouble for bees: A study out in the open-access journal PLoS One finds that viruses that previously had been the bane of domesticated honeybees have spread to wild pollinators.
A pattern showed up in the survey that fits that unpleasant scenario. Researchers tested for five viruses in pollinating insects and in their pollen hauls near apiaries in Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois. Israeli acute parasitic virus (IAPV) showed up in wild pollinators near honeybee installations carrying the disease but not near apiaries without the virus. In domestic honeybees, such viruses rank as one of the possible contributors to the still-mysterious malady known as colony collapse disorder that abruptly wipes out a hive’s workforce, [study author Diana] Cox-Foster says. [Science News]
UPDATE: Fortune reports today that the lead researcher on this study, Jerry Bromenshenk, had financial ties to Bayer Crop Science—including a research grant—that were not disclosed. Bayer makes pesticides that some beekeepers and researchers have cited as a possible cause of colony collapse disorder, and Bromenshenk’s conclusions in this study could benefit the company. Bromenshenk says the money did not go to this project or influence its findings.
Viruses. Mites. Fungi. Genetically modified crops. Inbreeding because of industrial agriculture. They’ve all been floated as possible causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mystery affliction that’s been wiping out honeybees, and by doing so threatening the agricultural industries that rely on those insects. Despite the flood of reports since 2006 about these suspects (and more absurd ones, like cellphone radiation disorienting the bees), the bee die-off continues without a clear explanation.
A study out this week in PLoS One points the finger in a new direction. What’s interesting about this explanation is its contention that there’s tandem foul play at work in CCD—two of the suggested culprits could be working together. But the mystery isn’t solved just yet.
This spring, many beekeepers across America opened their hives and found ruin within. At a time when they should have been buzzing with activity, the hives were half-empty, with most adult bees having flown off to die. A new federal survey indicates that 2010 has been the worst year so far for bee deaths. Another study suggests that pesticides might be to blame for the mass wipeout of adult honeybees.
This winter’s die-off was the continuation of a four-year trend. At any given point, beekeepers can expect to see 15 to 20 percent of their bees wiped out due to natural causes or harsh weather. But this alarming phenomenon, termed colony collapse disorder (CCD), has seen millions of bees perish in a mysterious epidemic, with some farmers losing 30 to 90 percent of their hives.
As for the cause of this epidemic, experts say their best guess is that many factors are combining to sicken bees, with the list of culprits including parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, and pesticides. Now a new study published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE strengthens the case for pesticides’ culpability.
Scientists have long wondered what exactly is killing bees in hives afflicted by colony collapse disorder (CCD), and now they may have found a clue. Bees in collapsing hives showed evidence of damaged ribosomes, which are crucial to protein production, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The researchers suggest that an onslaught of viruses may be responsible for the cellular damage.
The findings suggest that CCD, which has been blamed on everything from viruses to fungi to pesticides, may be linked to problems with protein production that could make bees more susceptible to these threats. “If your ribosome is compromised, then you can’t respond to pesticides, you can’t respond to fungal infections or bacteria or inadequate nutrition because the ribosome is central to the survival of any organism. You need proteins to survive” [AP], said lead researcher May Berenbaum.