The NY times has an excellent article about the bee colony die offs, which covers in detail the research ongoing in the US. It’s amazing the amount of wacky ideas that have surfaced to account for this:
“As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted, the rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven? Researchers have heard it all.
The volume of theories “is totally mind-boggling,” said Diana Cox-Foster, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. With Jeffrey S. Pettis, an entomologist from the United States Department of Agriculture, Dr. Cox-Foster is leading a team of researchers who are trying to find answers to explain “colony collapse disorder,” the name given for the disappearing bee syndrome.”
It’s a serious issue–almost 25% of the US beekeepers have reported losses. You can see the report from the National Academy of Science to Congress here. To borrow from their statement:
“Approximately 3/4 of the 250,000 + species of flowering plants on the planet rely on mobile animal partners—pollinators—to carry out this vital process. Over the past two decades, concern has grown around the world about apparent reductions in the abundance of pollinators of all descriptions, with declines reported on no fewer than four continents. “
This. Is. A. Very. Big. Deal.
We are looking at major problems for fruit, nut, and vegetable production if this continues. (Not to mention hardship for the many families that make a living as beekeepers.) The Academy also issued a major report last October that documented general pollinator declines, both domesticated and wild. I’ll link directly to the part of the book that covers the importance of pollinators. It’s dry and academic, but you get the gist–we really need these little helpers!
You may also find the Xerces Red List of endangered pollinators shocking–it goes on for pages and pages.
I hope to have some time in the future to write more about this, and how it’s exposing some interesting divisions in the field of entomology in the search for answers.
Edited 10/29/07 to add link to summary of all items on bees and colony collapse here, since this post seems to be getting lots of traffic!