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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Colony Collapse Disorder: This Might Be the Cause

Posted by jlwile on May 25, 2012

Worker bees entering a hive loaded down with pollen. (Public domain image.)

If you don’t follow the news as it relates to science, you might not be aware of a genuine threat to our food supply that was identified six years ago: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Many beekeepers have experienced the disappointment of checking their hives to find one of them mostly empty. While this is to be expected, most beekeepers report it happening rarely – on the order of one hive in five each year. Starting in the winter of 2006, however, some beekeepers started reporting losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives. This unusual increase in beehive loss has continued, and the problem is called CCD.

Why should we worry about CCD? Doesn’t it just mean there may be a shortage of honey one day? Absolutely not. Bees are critically important in the reproduction of many flowering plants. They collect pollen from flowers and take it back to their hive, as shown in the picture above. The big yellow “globs” on their legs are pollen sacs that are full of pollen. However, while they are collecting pollen, they can’t help but transfer some of it from one flower to another. That transferred pollen fertilizes the egg cell that is held in the female part of the flower, producing a new plant that gets packaged into a seed. The seed is further packaged in a fruit, which provides food for animals and people.

So without bees, animals and people would have a much harder time finding food. Now as far as we know, wild bees are not affected by CCD. As a result, it is doubtful that CCD will destroy the food supply in nature. However, hives that are maintained by beekeepers are responsible for fertilizing all sorts of commercial crops. As a result, if beekeepers continue to lose hives, there will eventually be a shortage of bees available for crops, which will result in higher food prices. These higher prices will not be limited to fruits, because some fruit products (such as almond hulls) are used for feeding livestock. In the end, many foods will become more expensive if CCD continues at its current rates.

Scientists have been looking for the cause of CCD for quite some time, and many avenues have been investigated. However, there haven’t been any studies that have proved particularly promising…until now.

In the March 30th issue of the journal Science, two studies looked at the effect of a particular type of insecticide (called a “neonicotinoid” insecticide) on both honeybees and bumble bees. The honeybee study showed that when honeybees were fed nonlethal doses of the insecticide, many could not find their way back to the hive.1 This is characteristic of CCD, since it is assumed that hives are collapsing due to the fact that the worker bees don’t come back from harvesting pollen. The bumblebee study showed that when bumblebees were fed nonlethal doses of the insecticide, their colonies shrunk and had a much harder time producing queens.2 Once again, this is characteristic of CCD.

A third study seems to really provide the “smoking gun” for the fact that neonicotinoid insecticides are to blame for CCD. In this study, the scientists watched 20 hives that were kept in four clusters of five, and the clusters were far from one another to ensure that bees from different clusters did not regularly encounter one another. In each cluster, four hives were fed nonlethal amounts of a neonicotinoid insecticide that was very similar to the one used in the two studies I mentioned above. The fifth hive of each cluster was given no insecticide. The plants around each cluster were insecticide-free, so the researchers are fairly confident that the bees in the fifth hive of each cluster were not exposed.

In less than a year, three of the four insecticide-free hives were still healthy, and the one that was dead had signs of being infected by dysentery. However, 15 of the 16 exposed hives were dead, and their characteristics were indicative of CCD.3 So in the end, it really does look like the neonicotinoid insecticides are to blame. Obviously, these results need to be confirmed, but if they stand, it looks like we now know the cause of CCD.

As a Christian, it is important to me that everyone has access to affordable food, and it is important to take care of the amazing Creation that God has given us. As a result, I think it is important that scientists in the field quickly attempt to confirm these studies and, if they are confirmed, governments should act quickly to ban the use of this kind of insecticide.

REFERENCES

1. MickaĆ«l Henry, et. al., “A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees,” Science 336:348-350, 2012.
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2. Penelope R. Whitehorn, et. al., “Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production,” Science 336:351-352, 2012.
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3. Chensheng Lu, Kenneth M. Warchol, and Richard A. Callahan, “In situ replication of honey bee colony collapse disorder,” Bulletin of Insectology 65(1)99-106, 2012.
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Comments

8 Responses to “Colony Collapse Disorder: This Might Be the Cause”
  1. S. Stetson says:

    Thanks so much for this information. I am a beekeeper and have never lost any hives to CCD but really want to know why it happens. It seems like pesticides are the hidden reason behind a lot of problems today. Thanks again and keep the scientific info coming!

  2. jlwile says:

    My pleasure, S. Stetson! There certainly are a lot of potential negative consequences when you start spraying human-made chemicals around Creation.

  3. Vivielle says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve heard quite a bit about CCD, and it seems like this is a pretty important step towards finding a way to stop it. Do you know if CCD is more prevalent in certain areas of the US? It would seem that if it is, and those areas were found to have higher rates of neonicotinoid use then that might help strengthen this hypothesis.

  4. jlwile says:

    That’s an interesting suggestion, Vivielle. I haven’t read anything that indicates it varies by region, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. At the same time, these insecticides might be so widely used that it is hard to see a regional effect.

  5. AnnoyingOne says:

    I agree that CCD is disturbing. I agree this is an interesting study that needs more investigation.

    However:

    1) Banning insecticides in this class outright may not be the correct decision. Look what happened with outlawing DDT and Malathion. Countless humans have died as a result of outright bans where targeted restrictions would have been a better solution (and not led to human death).

    2) My Creator God’s creation is very resilient. Many species have been completely wiped out with no human cause, but creation self-repairs and goes on. Man needs to be a good steward and just allowing bees to disappear is not a good outcome, but neither is a solution that discounts the ability of a designed creation fixing itself.

    3) “…lot of potential negative consequences when you start spraying human-made chemicals around Creation” I presume you only consume a Deuteronomic diet with no preservatives not mentioned in the Bible (I know you don’t eat like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah).

  6. jlwile says:

    AO, I agree that a risk/benefit analysis has to be done to determine whether or not banning the insecticide is the right thing to do. The key is to have a plentiful, cheap food supply. CCD will not help us in this regard, so something must be done. I would expect that since this is only one class of insecticide, a suitable replacement could be found and used.

    I agree that God’s creation is incredibly resilient, as shown by the Deepwater Horizon spill. However, CCD doesn’t affect wild bees. It affects kept bees, and we aren’t nearly as good at creating resilient ecosystems as God is. Thus, I don’t hold out much hope for man-made beehives fixing this themselves.

    Note that I said potential negative consequences. That’s not a condemnation of using man-made chemicals. It is a reasonable word of caution. We have seen serious consequences from some man-made chemicals being sprayed around, and it is only responsible to keep that in mind when we start spraying other man-made chemicals around!

  7. mimivirus says:

    Here is a study on CCD that was in the news: http://m.csmonitor.com/Science/2012/0607/Mite-virus-combo-killing-honeybees-say-scientists

    Any comments/thoughts?

  8. jlwile says:

    Unfortunately, the story doesn’t give me any way to get to the original study that was done. Thus, I can’t evaluate it very well. One thing I can say is that CCD is not characterized just by dead bees. Indeed, there are only a few dead bees found in the hive when CCD happens – the hive is mostly empty, but its food stocks are high. Thus, it’s not enough just to find something that is killing bees, which is what the article you linked discusses. You have to find something that is causing beehives to have the characteristics of CCD. That seems to be what the studies discussed in this blog post accomplish.

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