A team led by Jeff Pettis of the USDA's Bee Research Laboratory has published a detailed study with the latest information about Colony Collapse Disorder: Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae. My field biology skills are nowhere near developed enough to follow their paper, but their work has already been picked up by several science magazines:
- Insecticides Spreading to Wildflowers Poisons Bees
Bees brought home 35 types of insecticides and fungicides after foraging in almond, apple, blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin, and watermelon fields.
Bees that were exposed to the chemical cocktail didn’t necessarily die immediately, but instead became less resistant to a deadly single-celled parasite, called Nosema ceranae. In addition to the agricultural chemicals in pollen, a mite-killing chemical used to control a pest that attacks the bees also made the honeybees more susceptible to Nosema.
- Who’s killing the bees? New study implicates virtually every facet of modern farming
Rather than keep bees year round, most farmers now pay a bee farm to cart a hungry hive over and let the bees loose in their fields only when specifically needed for pollination. However, these bee farms tend to keep only one type of insect, usually the Asiatic honey bee. They’re good pets, and their honey provides a secondary source of revenue. The problem is that not every bee collects pollen equally well from every type of plant. So when you let a honey bee loose in a field full of, say, blueberry plants, they can collect far less pollen than a more specialized pollinator like a bumble bee, and they’re forced to hunt further afield.
This study found that some of the most damaging chemicals were not being collected from food crops, which have their dangers but are ultimately fairly well regulated. Rather, bees are increasingly picking up chemicals from weeds and other pest plants in the fields surrounding the crops they are supposed to be pollinating. This is a problem since, for obvious reasons, we have far fewer regulations on what farmers can spray on weeds.
The problems are known, the solutions are even known.
Unfortunately, the solutions are not easy.
I fear that Nosema Ceranae is going to claim many more corpses before this problem is resolved.