Colony Collapse: Lessons From Feral Bees Honey bees gone missing .Our agricultural system depends on the honeybee to pollinate many of the nuts, fruits, and vegetables we consume. But in 2006, the media started publicizing "Colony Collapse Disorder" to describe a sharp increase in commercial hiv... More
Colony Collapse: Lessons From Feral Bees Honey bees gone missing .Our agricultural system depends on the honeybee to pollinate many of the nuts, fruits, and vegetables we consume. But in 2006, the media started publicizing "Colony Collapse Disorder" to describe a sharp increase in commercial hive failure worldwide.
Since then, the research community has had its hands full trying to identify the root causes of colony collapse. A parasitic mite known as Varroa destructor is a major piece in this intricate puzzle. It has plagued beekeepers since it came to the US in the 1980s and is found present in most collapsed hives.
And people saw that, and assumed that: The bees out in the woods: they must be really suffering! Because nobody's treating them for mites at all. They must be all dying.
This issue drove skeptical Professor Tom Seeley at Cornell University into the woods to find out how wild colonies are actually faring against the mite:
But we went and checked in the Arnot forest, which is where I'd been studying the bees since 1978. I was surprised but also delighted to discover there are as many colonies living in this forest now as there were even before Varroa was introduced to North America.
His ecological work paves the way toward understanding how bees might thrive even in the presence of pests like Varroa:
There are many parts to that story: how they're able to do it. Part of it is how they live, but probably also a part of it is who they are. They're undergoing hard selection for bees that are resistant to the mites and hard selection for mites that are actually gentle on the bees.
More research needs to be done, but it appears that, without human intervention, both wild honeybees and the mite are adapting to cope with each other. Natural selection is at work here on both ends: colonies that don't have the genes to cope die, and mites that kill their hosts die too.
Colony Collapse Disorder is a phenomenon of the managed colonies. Of humans. When beekeepers treat their colonies for mites, they're actually blunting the selection for resistant bees. It's a misconception because this is new research, we're just learning this now over the past couple of years.
An open question now is whether we can apply these findings to commercial practices to combat colony collapse.
It's important to understand the natural habitat of honeybees so we can try as best we can to replicate that, perhaps. For our current practices.
In downtown Boston, researcher Noah Wilson Rich is working to apply information about bee ecology to improve urban beekeeping practice.
Bees have been here ever since we were just early Egyptians going down the Nile and pollinating crops with bees on barges. Now to thousands of years later where we have some beekeepers in the backyard, and we have bees on flatbed trucks on highways.
Large commercial beekeepers make most of their money through pollination contracts with monoculture farms, continuously transporting their hives on trucks throughout the year. A single commercial beekeeper may manage tens of thousands of hive. So, where does the current commercial model break down?
They're crowding them greatly, they're moving them around, putting them in new environments so they can't master one environment and exploit it effectively. Honeybee colonies that have queens queens that were reared in California, then they're moving them Florida, and then to the upper midwest: to very different climate zones.
You have to rent bees, because these crops need pollinators, but then when there's no food for the bees to live, they have to go elsewhere. That can be stressful for bees. There are data published that look at a link between bee stress hormones and immune function.
The more we learn about how honeybees behave in the wild, the more we can work to devise beekeeping practices that better match their biology:
Bees didn't evolve in a plastic hive, they didn't evolve in a styrofoam hive. So maybe wood and wax is really what's best for them. Tom Seeley's work has also shown that with very basic studies.
The problems that we're having with the bees are human-made problems. And if we made the problems, that means we can solve those problems.
Investigations into the many problems facing managed hives are ongoing, but understanding the health of wild colonies is essential for sustainable beekeeping.
Attribution for Colony Collapse: Lessons From Feral Bees by Ethan Sherbondy Creative Commons License: by 3.0
5572 http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/
Added Nov 5, 2014
Channel News & Politics
Duration 5:16 | views 1416
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