Colony Collapse

Lift Off, originally uploaded by aussiegall.

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If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.

Apocryphal, attributed to Einstein.

I’ve just been reading up on Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. It’s made the headlines internationally but most of it has been headline-grabbing stuff, rather than factual.

Wiki defines CCD as:

…a little understood phenomenon in which worker bees in a beehive or Western honeybee colony abruptly disappear.

The decline of the honeybee has actually been going on in the States for quite a while. By 1994, 98 percent of the wild honeybees in the States were gone. However, they were not originally native to the Americas, so this decline is not as serious as it sounds – their necessity as pollinators is limited to agriculture.

More recently, commercial colonies have been dying out. This could be due to any number of external factors, including pathogens, pesticides, the ubiquity of mobile phone infrastructure, genetically modified crops, etc. This is more worrying because the decline of these bee populations might be an indication of the increasing toxicity of our modern way of life – like canaries down a coal mine.

Wiki states that honeybees:

…are responsible for the pollination of approximately one third of the United States’ crop species, including such species as: almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and strawberries. Many but not all of these plants can be (and often are) pollinated by other insects in small holdings in the U.S., including other kinds of bees, but typically not on a commercial scale. While some farmers of a few kinds of native crops do bring in honey bees to help pollinate, none specifically need them, and when honey bees are absent from a region, there is a presumption that native pollinators may reclaim the niche, typically being better adapted to serve those plants (assuming that the plants normally occur in that specific area).

However, even though on a per-individual basis, many other species are actually more efficient at pollinating, on the 30% of crop types where honey bees are used, most native pollinators cannot be mass-utilized as easily or as effectively as honey bees—in many instances they will not visit the plants at all. Beehives can be moved from crop to crop as needed, and the bees will visit many plants in large numbers, compensating via sheer numbers for what they lack in efficiency. The commercial viability of these crops is therefore strongly tied to the beekeeping industry.

So, there you go, whilst CCD is pretty serious from an economic perspective, it’s not the end of the world. ‘Bee not afraid’, as an article by Heather Smith says

3 Responses to “Colony Collapse”

  1. drfrank Says:

    Hi Brian, Thanks for looking into this – CCD caught my attention, and contributed to me curtailing the use of my wifi modem. (I can imagine your father’s response.) Maybe that’s my nutty paranoia, but something’s not right. Honey, the busyness of bees, and their incredible ability to communicate make me sympathetic to their plight; and if this is what it takes to slow a headlong rush into this hyper-technologised world, and to walk away from my laptop screen and breathe in some fresh air, then so be it. (And encountering Slate magazine is a bonus.) Keep posting. Oh yes, I really like your Flickr Neo-cubism set; haven’t had a good mosey around, but don’t want to spoil the surprise should you post more of your photos to Picture Post. Your narratives and links can really help to bring the pictures alive here for me. Good stuff, Francis

  2. picturepost Says:

    Thanks Francis – I’ll be drip feeding my stuff into the blog as and when it seems appropriate or when I am too lazy to search for material. As for technology, nothing beats a good walk! 🙂

  3. drfrank Says:

    Excellent advice – ta.

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