Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bees are disappearing because of pesticides—or not?

There are at least two versions of what is causing the loss of our honeybees, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  Because honeybees are critical to our agriculture and our environment, we need to solve this great mystery as to why so many bees are flying away and not coming back.

Trust me, you may not have a particular fondness for honeybees, but they are important:

“While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, the term colony collapse disorder was first applied to a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honey bee colonies in North America in late 2006. Colony collapse is economically significant because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by bees.” Colony collapse disorder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

One version of the cause of CCD:

“A recent study conducted by Penn State University published in the Public Library of Science (High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health) found widespread and “remarkably high” levels of pesticides and other toxicant contamination of beehives and food sources including fungicides in pollen. Dr. Chris Mullen, lead author of the study said “The pollen is not in good shape. The study reports that 121 pesticides and metabolites have been found in wax, pollen, bee, and hive samples.”  - from “EVERYONE SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT THE VANISHING OF THE BEES” – GrowWNY

Another version of the cause of CCD.

“A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One. Exactly how that combination kills bees remains uncertain, the scientists said — a subject for the next round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.” – from “Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery”- New York Times

As you will notice, these two versions of the cause of CCD are radically different.  One says that “pesticides and other toxicant contamination” are involved; the other does not mention pesticides.  One study suggests that something in Nature has gone awry for the bees; the other suggests that manmade contaminants are the cause.  Why are two different version of this critical matter coming out at the same time?

Could it be that one source has the latest information and the other source just hasn’t caught up?

Most answers to environmental problems are most likely a myriad of interrelated factors caused by both manmade and natural influences.  It didn’t used to be that way.  A couple of hundred years ago there wasn’t enough humans and human technology to make much of a influence on our global environment—though our ancestors did manage to chop down or burn a lot of forests, kill off numerous top predators, and pollute some rivers.

But nowadays, we humans have a profound effect on our environment; and, as in the bee CCD issue, we will always have to consider both the laws of Nature and humanity’s influence on any environmental issue. I hope the press considers this and doesn’t get too hung up on protecting any one business or ideology.

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