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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Bee Crisis

In the past several weeks, a spate of studies have appeared in scientific journals suggesting the culprit behind mass deaths of honeybees is widely used pesticides called neonicotinoids. On June 23, President Obama signed a memorandum establishing the first-ever federal pollinator strategy and the Agriculture Department announced $8 million in incentives to farmers and ranchers in five states who establish new habitats for honeybees.

Italian honeybees hover around the suit of beekeeper Robert Harvey as he transfers bee colonies from a blueberry field near Columbia Falls, Maine. Last year, 23.2 percent of the country’s managed honeybee colonies died, which is higher than the “acceptable” rate of about 19 percent, according to a report from a group supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bees pollinate plants that provide much of the food that we consume, including apples, watermelons and coffee beans. Adrees Latif/Reuters

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bee Deaths May Have Reached A Crisis Point For Crops

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Almost a third of the country's honeybee colonies did not make it through the winter. That's according to a new survey of America's beekeepers. In fact, that's been the case almost every year for the past six years. Beekeepers say unless someone can help more bees survive, there won't be enough to pollinate America's apples, blueberries and other treasured crops. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture began this annual nationwide survey six years ago, after beekeepers reported some new and frightening problems with their bees.
JEFFREY PETTIS: Well, we started out literally by phoning beekeepers.
CHARLES: That's Jeffrey Pettis, who's in charge of the USDA's Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.
Over the past six years, on average, 30 percent of all the honey bee colonies in the U.S. died off over the winter. The worst year was five years ago. Last year was the best, just 22 percent of the colonies died.
PETTIS: The last year gave us some hope. The honey bees were doing better.
CHARLES: But this year, the death rate was up again, 31 percent.
When the survey started, beekeepers talked a lot about Colony Collapse Disorder; colonies that seemed pretty healthy but suddenly collapsed - the bees flew away and didn't come back. Beekeepers are not seeing that so much anymore, Pettis says. They're mostly seeing colonies that just dwindle. As the crowd of bees get smaller, it gets weaker.
PETTIS: They can't generate heat very well in the spring to rear brood. They can't also generate heat to fly.
CHARLES: Farmers, who grow crops like almonds and blueberries and apples rely on commercial beekeepers to make sure their crops get pollinated. This year, Pettis says, we came closer than ever before to a real crisis. The only thing that saved part of the almond crop in California was some lovely weather.
PETTIS: We got incredibly good flight weather, so the bees, even those small colonies that we talked about earlier - the small colonies that can't fly very well even in cool weather, they were able to fly because of good weather.
CHARLES: And the bees reached every tree.
Pettis says beekeepers can really only afford to lose about 15 percent of their colonies each year. More than that and they lose money. Some commercial beekeepers are still in business, he says, just because they love it.
PETTIS: I mean it's just something that gets in your blood, so you know what to give out. You know, OK, its 30 percent loss each year - I'll do better next year. We're very much optimists.
CHARLES: Beekeepers have a whole list of reasons why so many colonies are dying. There's a nasty parasite called the Varroa mite which they can't get rid of; also, bee killing pesticides. And they say there just fewer places in the country where a bee can find plenty of food, plenty of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen. That was especially true this past year. The same drought that left Midwestern cornfields parched and wilting also dried up wildflowers and starved the bees. That was a natural disaster.
But May Barenboim, a professor of entomology at the University of Illinois, says most of the changes in the landscape are the result of people's decisions about what to do with their land.
MAY BARENBOIN: I just wish there were more incentives for more people, not just farmers, to plant a more diversified landscape that provides nutritional resources for all kinds of pollinators.
CHARLES: So, plant more flowers.
BARENBOIN: Plant more flowers and be a little more tolerant of the weeds in the garden.
CHARLES: What's more controversial is the role of pesticides. Some beekeepers and environmentalists are calling for tighter restrictions on the use of one particular class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids. Europe is about to ban some uses of these pesticides. But U.S. farmers and pesticide companies are opposed to any such move here and the Environmental Protection Agency says it's not yet convinced that this would help the bees very much.
Dan Charles, NPR News.
SIEGEL: It may mean little in the overall picture of bee health, but there are many backyards and rooftops around the U.S. with a hive or two, including here at NPR's new building in Washington, D.C.
SIEGEL: Our so-called green roof, covered with soil and plants, as of yesterday houses two small wooden hives with over two 20,000 bees. No honey yet, but the bees have inspired an unofficial Twitter feed, @nprbees.
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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Trouble with Beekeeping in the Anthropocene

The beepocalypse is on the cover of TIME, but it looks like managed honeybees will still pull through. Wild bees—and wild species in general—won't be so lucky in a human-dominated planet

Read more: Wild bees are in even worse shape than honeybees |

The Trouble with Beekeeping in the Anthropocene

The beepocalypse is on the cover of TIME, but it looks like managed honeybees will still pull through. Wild bees—and wild species in general—won't be so lucky in a human-dominated planet
Allan Baxter via Getty Images
Besides being a handy symbol of environmental decline, the honeybee also does some pollination
I’ve written this week’s cover story for the magazine, on the growing threat to honeybees. You can read it (with a subscription) over here. The short version: beginning nearly a decade ago, honeybees started dying off at unusually and mysteriously high rates—this past winter, nearly one-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared. At first this appeared due to something called colony collapse disorder (CCD); hives would be abandoned without warning, with bees seemingly leaving honey and intact wax behind. The apocalyptic nature of CCD—some people really thought the disappearance of the bees indicated that the Rapture was nigh—grabbed the public’s attention. More recently, beekeepers have been seeing fewer cases of CCD proper, but honeybees keep dying and bees keep collapsing. That’s bad for our food system—bees add at least $15 billion in crop value through pollination in the U.S. alone, and if colony losses keep up, those pollination demands may not be metand valuable crops like almonds could wither.
More than the bottom line for grocery stores, though, the honeybee’s plight alarms us because a species that we have tended and depended on for thousands of years is dying—and we don’t really know why. Tom Theobald, a beekeeper and blogger who has raised the alarm about CCD, put that fear this way: “The bees are just the beginning.”
But while we don’t now we exactly what causes CCD or why honeybees are dying in larger numbers, we do know the suspects: pesticides, including the newer class of neonicotinoids that seem to affect bees even at very low levels; biological threats like the vampiric Varroa mite; and the lack of nutrition thanks to monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn, which offer honeybees little in the way of the pollen they need to survive. Most likely, bee deaths are due to a mix of all of those menaces acting together—pesticides and lack of food might weaken honeybees, and pests like Varroa could finish them off, spreading diseases the bees don’t have the strength to resist. Unfortunately, that means there’s no simple way to save the honeybees either. Simply banning, say, neonicotinoids might take some of the pressure off honeybees, but most scientists agree it wouldn’t solve the problem. (And getting rid of neonicotinoids would have unpredictable consequences for agriculture—the pesticides were adopted in part because they are considered safer for mammals, including human beings.) Honeybees are suffering because we’ve created a world that is increasingly inhospitable to them.
Still, for all the alarm, honeybees are likely to pull through. As I point out in the magazine piece, beekeepers have mostly managed to replace lost colonies, though at a cost high enough that some long-time beekeepers are getting out of the business altogether. Beekeepers are buying new queens and splitting their hives, which cuts into productivity and honey production, but keeps their colony numbers high enough to so far meet pollination demands. They’re adding supplemental feed—often sugar or corn syrup—to compensate for the lack of wild forage. The scientific and agricultural community is engaged—see Monsanto’s recent honeybee summit, and the company’s work on a genetic weapon against the Varroa mite. Randy Oliver, a beekeeper and independent researcher, told me that he could see honeybees becoming a feedlot animal like pigs or chickens, bred and kept for one purpose and having their food brought to them, rather than foraging in the semi-wild way they live now. That sounds alarming—and it’s not something anyone in the beekeeping industry would like to see—but it’s also important to remember that honeybees themselves aren’t exactly natural, especially in North America, where they were imported by European settlers in the 17th century. As Hannah Nordhaus, the author of the great book A Beekeeper’s Lament, has written, honeybees have always been much more dependent on human beings than the other way around.
The reality is that honeybees are very useful to human beings, and species that are very useful to us—think domesticated animals and pets—tend to do OK in the increasingly human-dominated world we call the Anthropocene. But other wild species aren’t so lucky—and that includes the thousands of species of wild bees and other non-domesticated pollinators. Bumblebees have experienced recent and rapid population loss in the U.S., punctuated by a mass pesticide poisoning in Oregon this past June that led to the deaths of some 50,000 bumblebees. A 2006 report by the National Academies of Science concluded that the populations of many other wild pollinators—especially wild bees—was trending “demonstrably downward.” The threats are much the same ones faced by managed honeybees: pesticides, lack of wild forage, parasites and disease. The difference is that there are thousands of human beings who make it their business to care for and prop up the populations of honeybees. No one is doing the same thing for wild bees. The supposed beepocalypse is on the cover ofTIME magazine, but “you don’t hear about the decline of hundreds of species of wild bees,” says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
That’s meant almost literally—we don’t hear them anymore. The plight of the bees illustrates our outsized influence on the this planet as we reshape it—consciously and not—to meet our immediate needs. But just because we have this power doesn’t mean we fully understand it, or our impact on our own world. We are a species that increasingly has omnipotence without omniscience. That’s a dangerous combination for the animals and plants that share this planet with us.  And eventually, it will be dangerous for us, too.
Subscribe here to read Bryan Walsh’s full TIME cover story on A World Without Bees. Already a subscriber? Read it here.

Read more: Wild bees are in even worse shape than honeybees |

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Stimulating Honeybees for 2014 Almond Pollination

Via  a new, great find, Wayward Spark

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