BEE DIE-OFF ALARMS BEEKEEPERS, CROP GROWERS AND RESEARCHERS
2006, an alarming number of honey bee colonies began to die across the
continental United States. Subsequent investigations suggest these outbreaks of
unexplained colony collapse were experienced by beekeepers for at least the last
two years. Reports of similar die offs are documented in beekeeping
literature, with outbreaks possibly occurring as long ago as 1896.
The current phenomenon, without a recognizable underlying cause, has been
tentatively termed "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD), and threatens the
pollination industry and production of commercial honey in the United States.
better understand the cause(s) of this disease and with the hope of eventually
identifying strategies to prevent further losses, a group of researchers,
extension agents, and regulatory officials was formed. This group
represents a diverse number of institutions including Bee Alert Technology, Inc.
(a bee technology transfer company affiliated with the University of Montana),
The Pennsylvania State University, the USDA/ARS, the Florida Department of
Agriculture, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
this group has identified its mandate as: "Exploring the cause or causes of
honey bee colony collapse and finding appropriate strategies to reduce colony
loss in the future".
College of Agricultural Sciences UNIVERSITY
PARK, Pa. -- An alarming die-off of honey bees has beekeepers fighting for
commercial survival and crop growers wondering whether bees will be available
to pollinate their crops this spring and summer.
are scrambling to find answers to what's causing an affliction recently named
Colony Collapse Disorder, which has decimated commercial beekeeping operations
in Pennsylvania and across the country.
the last three months of 2006, we began to receive reports from commercial
beekeepers of an alarming number of honey bee colonies dying in the eastern
United States," says Maryann Frazier, apiculture extension associate in
Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Since the beginning of
the year, beekeepers from all over the country have been reporting
has become a highly significant yet poorly understood problem that threatens
the pollination industry and the production of commercial honey in the United
States," she says. "Because the number of managed honey bee colonies
is less than half of what it was 25 years ago, states such as Pennsylvania can
ill afford these heavy losses."
group of university faculty researchers, state regulatory officials,
cooperative extension educators and industry representatives is working to
identify the cause or causes of Colony Collapse Disorder and to develop
management strategies and recommendations for beekeepers. Participating
organizations include Penn State, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the
agriculture departments in Pennsylvania and Florida, and Bee Alert Technology
Inc., a technology transfer company affiliated with the University of Montana.
work has identified several likely factors that could be causing or
contributing to CCD," says Dennis vanEngelsdorp, acting state apiarist
with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. "Among them are mites
and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease and pesticide
contamination or poisoning."
studies of dying colonies revealed a large number of disease organisms
present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit, vanEngelsdorp
explains. Ongoing case studies and surveys of beekeepers experiencing CCD have
found a few common management factors, but no common environmental agents or
chemicals have been identified.
beekeeping industry has been quick to respond to the crisis. The National
Honey Board has pledged $13,000 of emergency funding to the CCD working group.
Other organizations, such as the Florida State Beekeepers Association, are
working with their membership to commit additional funds.
loss of colonies could seriously affect the production of several important
crops that rely on pollination services provided by commercial beekeepers.
instance, the state's $45 million apple crop -- the fourth largest in the
country -- is completely dependent on insects for pollination, and 90 percent
of that pollination comes from honey bees," Frazier says. "So the
value of honey bee pollination to apples is about $40 million."
honey bee pollination contributes about $55 million to the value of crops in
the state. Besides apples, crops that depend at least in part on honey bee
pollination include peaches, soybeans, pears, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherries,
raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.
to cope with a potential shortage of pollination services, growers should plan
well ahead. "If growers have an existing contract or relationship with a
beekeeper, they should contact that beekeeper as soon as possible to ascertain
if the colonies they are counting on will be available," she advises.
"If growers do not have an existing arrangement with a beekeeper but are
counting on the availability of honey bees in spring, they should not delay
but make contact with a beekeeper and arrange for pollination services now.
beekeepers overwintering in the north many not know the status of their
colonies until they are able to make early spring inspections," she adds.
"This should occur in late February or early March but is dependent on
weather conditions. Regardless, there is little doubt that honey bees are
going to be in short supply this spring and possibly into the summer."
up-to-date report on Colony Collapse Disorder can be found on the Mid-Atlantic
Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium Web site at http://maarec.org.
Many valuable crops benefit from
insect pollination; the transfer of pollen from the male parts of a flower to
the female part of a flower. Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen among
different plants or varieties of the same species. This process increases fruit
yield and, often, the size of the fruit. Honey bees are important pollinators
because they can be managed and easily moved to crop sites. In the United
States, the added value to agriculture from honey bee pollination is over $14
billion annually, and many beekeepers earn extra income from renting colonies
for pollination. In Georgia, bee hives are rented to pollinate apples,
blueberries, cucumbers and watermelons. Professional recommendations vary for
the number of hives needed for good pollination, but for these crops 1-2
colonies per acre is commonly used. If the pollen is compatible, fertilization
of the ovule and seed formation occur. Generally, more seeds develop when large
numbers of pollen grains are transferred. Seeds, in turn, stimulate surrounding
ovary tissue to develop so that, for example, an apple with many seeds will be
larger than one with fewer seeds. In this way, good pollination improves both
fruit yield and size.
Many insects visit flowers to
collect pollen and nectar as food. As they forage, these insects spread pollen
grains among flowers, accomplishing pollination. Many flowers offer sugary
liquid nectar as an added enticement for these pollinating insects. Among insect
pollinators, bees are especially efficient because they eat pollen and nectar
exclusively, visit many flowers of the same species during a single trip, and
have hairy bodies which easily pick up pollen grains.
There are over 3000 species of
bees in North America. Most of these are solitary bees, but a well-known
minority are social, that is, they live together in colonies and cooperate in
colony tasks. Both solitary and social species are important in crop
pollination, but the social species - namely honey bees and bumble bees - are
more easily managed.
Compared to honey bees, some wild
bees pollinate certain crops more efficiently because of unique and desirable
behaviors. For example, Southeastern blueberry bees buzz-pollinate blossoms by
shaking pollen from the flower with high frequency muscle vibrations; for
blueberry, this greatly improves pollination efficiency.
In many parts of the country,
fruit and vegetable growers are concerned about declining numbers of wild bees.
Human activities destroy bee habitat and forage. Generally, growers are
receiving less "free" pollination from wild bees and increasingly they
must make up for this by renting managed honey bee hives during bloom periods.