Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Vanishing of the Bees, part II

Nearly a year ago, I blogged about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

In sum, billions of bees are dying faster than they can be replaced. Their dead bodies reveal pathogens and disease. While the exact cause is unknown, all fingers point to modern agriculture: we are poisoning bees with our excessive use of toxic agro-chemicals, and severely straining them by transporting and working them year round.

A 2007 National Academy of Sciences report "blamed the decline of pollinators around the world on a combination of habitat loss, pesticides, pollution and diseases spilling out of greenhouses using commercial bumblebees."

Today I had the opportunity to chat with a very reputable scientist in the agricultural world. Turns out, the honey bee situation has not improved in the last year. According to her, at this rate (40% loss in one decade), domestic produce production will die within 10 years...almost.

Turns out, climate change is prompting the migration of the africanized honey bee, also known as the "killer bee." The Center for Invasive Species Research reports:

Immigration of africanized honey bee results in a greater density of highly defensive bee colonies. Africanized honey bee respond to activity near their colonies with increased numbers of stinging bees over much greater distances. This can make them life-threatening, especially to people allergic to stings or with limited capacity to escape (the young, old and handicapped), and to confined livestock or pets. In each country into which they have migrated, they have killed humans and animals. Beekeeping is also disrupted by africanized honey bees, which are more difficult to manage and transport. Maintaining colonies of European bees in areas with africanized honey bees is the best defense, but to do so beekeepers face greater expense, more difficulty finding sites for bees because of public fear, and greater liability concerns.

With regard to using our domestic bees are a defense, my source told me that because of vanishing bee populations, the killer bees will just take over.

Obviously, I prefer highly-aggressive bees to no bees (and thus no domestic produce), but the situation ain't pretty. While the exact cause of honey bee disappearance remains "unproven," the writing is on the wall. Just another price we pay for modern agro business...


Anonymous said...

I find this beepocalypse about as believable as climate change....In the 1990s, the media was full of reports of deaths caused by killer bees (thus where they got the name) and that within years, they would take over the continent....fast forward almost two decades, and people are still waiving it around as a scare tactic. It's almost as a bad as those population bomb idiots who keep changing the numbers each time they're proven wrong.

Vanessa said...

It is not that every type of bee in the world is dropping dead. Of the type responsible for most pollination in the US, 40% are gone (although I do recall some other country with this experience that ended up banning chemicals that are highly toxic to bees...I'll have to dig that fact up).

As for "killer bees," you're right--there will not be massacres in the streets. I think there is something like 40-50 bee-related deaths per year, and most of those victims have allergies.

Whether or not you die, no one wants to be swarmed and stung by hyper-aggressive bees that need not even be provoked.

You can dispute the methodology used, but the numbers show decreasing honey bee populations and increasing africanized bee populations. If our domestic bees are dropping in numbers, they can't "hold down the fort" against incoming foreign bees.

Vanessa said...

Also, regardless of the mortality rates, africanized bees have grown in numbers and expanded across the US. One of the links in my post provides a GIS depiction by NASA, showing movement of the AB since the 1990s.


liminalD said...

'Beepocalypse'... lol.

I think we needn't be too worried about swarms of killer bees chasing people down streets, so much as we should be concerned about what the hikes in food prices as a result of declining pollination of our food plants and those of our stock animals will mean for those less-affluent among us who already find it difficult to feed ourselves and our families. It's scary stuff :o