With the number of beehives in the US reduced to nearly a third of what they were 50 years ago, scientists say we can't wait any longer to deal with honeybee mass deaths. The future of farming depends on it.
Colony Collapse Disorder, a strange phenomenon where a beehive suddenly degenerates into chaos and death, has become an epidemic in the US, Asia and Europe. In today's issue of Science, Francis Ratnieks and Norman Carreck offer an overview of current theories about what's causing CCD and explain the gravity of the problem. Though many have claimed the disorder is caused by cell phones and GMO crops, that has been thoroughly disproven. Most likely, say the authors, several factors can lead to CCD, including mite infestations and viruses (especially because mites tend to carry viruses). Viruses that cause bees to become paralyzed, or to be born with deformed wings, are among several bee viruses that could lead to colony death.
Another possibility is that environmental conditions are a factor, including the practice of moving beehives from place to place in order to facilitate fertilization and honey production. Many bee farmers use artificial pollen in their hives, and this may also play a role in colony collapse.
Why is this important? Bees aren't just honey-producers. They're a crucial part of many crop reproductive cycles. Several important food crops rely on honeybees for fertilization, including almonds and apples, as well as many berries and vine fruits like pumpkins. Without bees, fruit crops may also begin to die out.
Ratnieks and Carreck say that more research into CCD is needed urgently:
Most likely, CCD is the result of many smaller failures in a hive, such as virus epidemics, food shortages, and being moved from place to place. In that sense, CCD may be a version of what could happen in human cities if you had a similar set of factors in play.
CCD image from TreeHugger.