While newly elected President Donald Trump is seeking control and censorship over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) online presence with the removal of the Climate Change web page, he has not bee able to stifle the entirety of the agency’s environmental concerns. One page that remains in place on the EPA’s website is on Colony Collapse Disorder, or the growing occurrence of honey bee hives suddenly dying.
In 2006 and 2007, beekeepers began to report their bee colonies were dying. Not just a few colonies and not just a few beekeepers; This was widespread across the United States and loses of between 30-90 percent of hive individuals. Economically acceptable levels of loss are anything lower than 18.7 percent. This means that average of 42.1 percent for the year of April 2014 to April 2015 greatly exceeds what the beekeepers and farmers expect. Beekeepers would open their hives to find very, if any worker bees, and a live queen. The workers, the beeswho’s job it is to collect pollen away from the hive, were flying away and dying. The name given to this sudden declining managed honeybee colonies was Colony Collapse Disorder.
While most people, don’t care for bees in in and around their homes, the honeybee is a sign of health and productivity. The honeybee, along with a few other pollinators, are a critical in that they pollination about one third of our food. Apples, pears, cherries, vegetables, and grasses for cattle are just a few of the foods we would struggle to grow if we did not have the assistance of hundreds of thousands of honey bees. In all, the honeybee contributes to over $15 billion dollars of produce production in the United States. The result in the removal of honey bees from the pollination of crops would be an extreme increase in the cost of many of our staple products as farmers would attempt to use less effective insects with lower or no yields.
While extensive research and surveys are being conducted, no one is sure what is causing CCD. According to the USDA and the EPA, the main theories include “infection by bacteria, fungi, viruses, spiroplasmas or new pathogens…” . Varroa mites are a major concern for honeybee colonies as they “suck blood from both the adults and developing” bees. Another major theory is pesticide poisoning. This could be pesticides for pests or fungi for either the crop or the hive itself. Research has even found that spraying for viruses like Zika has killed thousands of honeybees.
CCD may not just have a single cause, either. Bees can be sensitive to extensive travel, and so moving colonies around to pollinate as different crops come into season all over the United States may put enough stress on an already compromised colony to see CCD. Backyard apiaries may be weakened as their foraging space decreases. Infringement of suburbs on traditionally rural areas means that bee colonies are next to ornamental trees and shrubs, rather than wildflowers and foraging grounds. This means bee colonies collect less pollen for honey and so have fewer stores of food to last them through their winter season (when they are unable to forage). This contributes to CCD in that they do not have enough food to keep the workers alive long enough to the next foraging period in early spring.
Colony Collapse Disorder clearly has farther reaches than just the apiary community. It could impact not just the fruits and vegetables that are available to us, but also the price of goods that use pollinated crops- from pumpkin pie to beef. Even if we don’t want bees in our backyards, we need to understand that they are a critical part of our diet and economy. So leave space for a few bee friendly flowers in your garden instead of all lower maintenance ornamentals and be aware of what pesticides you use on your lawn, trees and backyard gardens. Buy organic produce when available to discourage the use of pesticides used in conventional farming. While the individual has little control over large- scale spraying and pest control for crops and bee colonies, we can still make small changes to help keep Colony Collapse Disorder at bay.
This article was written by Erin Benton, a writer for dusk magazine.