Join 3,552 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Nature's Dying Migrant Worker
June 29, 2014 10:38 AM   Subscribe

One-third of the food on our plate now relies on just one pollinator — the honeybee. And it’s dying. The land of milk and honey is fast becoming a land without wildflowers, thanks to insecticides called neonicotinoids. "In the past decade, in most states and especially in the Midwest, the amount of honey produced by each hive has crashed. That’s clear evidence that bees are seriously impaired, said Susan Kegley, a pesticide researcher in Berkeley, Calif., who works with beekeepers. In Minnesota, for example, production per hive has plummeted by one-third in the past decade."
posted by thescoop (68 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Coming soon: Roundup-Ready Honeybees!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:40 AM on June 29 [12 favorites]


Not soon enough.
posted by Catblack at 10:46 AM on June 29


Roundup-Ready

Plenty of reasons to hate on Roundup, its chemical cousins and Monsanto - but the impact to honeybees don't seem to be it.

Mason bee homes and overwintering mason bees

One should be able to place a wire mesh in front of mason bees and harvest the pollen but I've not tried this yet.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:51 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]


This story about garden center plants treated with neonicotinoids and their effect on the bees was in the news a few days ago, too. Two or three days after I bought and put out some flowering plants, of course. I'd never thought before about how I don't see insects on plants I buy.
posted by dilettante at 10:51 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


We use no pesticides on our half-dozen fruit trees and no herbicides in our garden beds and have been fortunate to see lots of bees in the yard. On the flip side we have to check all the fruit for worms before consuming and do a lot more weeding but it's worth it to have bees around.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:52 AM on June 29 [9 favorites]


Yeah this is horrible and terrifying me. Years ago when I put in most of my perennials, I got them from big box stores, so I suppose there's a very good chance they came from neonicotinoid seeds. I can't find any info on whether that lasts year after year or not - but I'm so afraid that they've killed so many bees. I don't use chemicals and never have, but that doesn't matter - the poison is in the seed and root of the plant. For the last two years I have only planted organic seedlings and organic seeds, but I really don't want to dig up all my echinacea, gaillardia and butterfly bushes and replace them. The only solace is that the carpenter bees from my porch who are my primary pollinators don't seem to be diminishing in numbers and their piles of sawdust are just as big as they've ever been. But anecdata.

And of course what does it matter what I do when the whole neighborhood and country just goes on using the damn things and blithely buying treated plants at Home Depot and Lowes and WalMart, thinking, mind you, that they're doing their bit for the environment. It's kind of uniquely horrible, when the garden centers run big glossy ads pushing butterfly gardens - that kill butterflies. I have little hope that this country will ever ban the damn things - in this political climate? They wouldn't ban profitable poison even if it was killing off preschoolers, let alone insects - and anyway, so much damage has already been done
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:13 AM on June 29 [13 favorites]


I hope the agricultural industry finishes this little turf war of orchard keepers versus corn farmers, and on the side of the bees.

But don't forget - honeybees are an agricultural insect, not far from pigs or chickens. It's the other wild insects that we ought to be worried about.
posted by anthill at 11:15 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


The framing of this post kind of bothers me. The cause of colony collapse disorder still isn't clearly known, but as the article says, it's probably a combination of factors. As the article also says, that neonicotinoids kill bees as they are used in agriculture isn't even completely proven yet. So presenting neonicotinoids as the sole cause of colony collapse disorder when it isn't proven and most experts expect multiple causes is somewhat deceptive.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:19 AM on June 29 [21 favorites]


perennials ...so I suppose there's a very good chance they came from neonicotinoid seeds.

Many are going to be from cuttings or even tissue cloning because how are you going to make sure the colour in the flower will remain true if there is flower colour variation?

The poison on the seed is to prevent things from eating the seed before it grows.

New Report: Widely-Used Neonicotinoid Seed Treatments Are Unnecessary in Most Cases
posted by rough ashlar at 11:22 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


On the brighter side, the state of Virginia will pay you to take up beekeeping...
posted by matty at 11:28 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


They wouldn't ban profitable poison even if it was killing off preschoolers, let alone insects....

Let me fix this for you.

They won't ban profitable poison even when it kills off preschoolers.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:29 AM on June 29 [7 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks for posting it. I was just on the verge of deciding that I was being a snobby spendthrift by shopping at the Berkeley garden centers and that whatever chemicals got put on Home Depot plants would surely dissipate fast enough. Thanks.
posted by salvia at 11:32 AM on June 29


While some fear that crop yields will suffer without the use of neonicotinoids, the study released today demonstrates that their benefits do not outweigh the costs.

... their benefits do not outweigh the costs profits to BigChem.

Petition signed.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:32 AM on June 29


This spring, a local beekeeper asked if he could temporarily re-home a few hives on our rural property, and my husband and I have been thrilled to have these guests. For the first time, our cherry blossoms were covered in bees, and I could hear the branches buzzing. Some of the colonies have made it, others haven't. But if you have room to host a hive, get in touch with your local beekeepers!
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:32 AM on June 29 [12 favorites]


Mitrovarr, there is plenty of evidence that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides represents a serious threat to bees and other animals. There are also large commercial interests who will be harmed by additional (or in some cases, any) regulation of these pesticides. Hmmm, how to choose?

Criticisms based on "deceptive framing" aren't particularly helpful in this context.
posted by sneebler at 11:33 AM on June 29 [7 favorites]


This isn't about colony collapse disorder. That is a phenomenon where a previously viable hive suddenly is empty, for reasons which continue to be unexplained to any satisfactory measure.

This is about the use of pesticides which cause bees in completely viable colonies to be sick and unable to contribute to the general welfare of the hive, leading to its eventual downfall.

Wired also has a recent article about this problem, which may be a bit more helpful because it gets into specifics about levels of neonicotinoids that are harmful.
posted by hippybear at 11:39 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


I'm glad I try to buy as many plants as I can for our yard from the local garden centre down the street. They don't sell pesticides and push organic gardening. I'm no hippie but I really don't want anything to do with chemicals in my yard. How would they not harm bees if they're designed to kill insects?

I've been interested in mason bees (our neighbours have a hive) but I also have a spot for a honeybee hive. I may look into hosting one.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:41 AM on June 29


sneebler: Mitrovarr, there is plenty of evidence that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides represents a serious threat to bees and other animals. There are also large commercial interests who will be harmed by additional (or in some cases, any) regulation of these pesticides. Hmmm, how to choose?

Well, blaming pesticides alone does ignore the issues of emerging pathogens and bad agricultural practices that are thought to also be responsible for the decline. Bee populations are crashing even in places that don't use neonicotinoid pesticides. So it isn't a good idea to ignore the other causes, no matter your thoughts about these pesticides.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:45 AM on June 29 [8 favorites]


blaming pesticides alone does ignore the issues of emerging pathogens

I'm pretty sure that neonicotinoids harm the immune system of insects, leading to the emergent success of said pathogens.
posted by hippybear at 11:48 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


hippybear: I'm pretty sure that neonicotinoids harm the immune system of insects, leading to the emergent success of said pathogens.

That really isn't a safe assumption. New pathogens pop out of the woodwork to attack agriculture all the time. Furthermore, bees being flying insects (as opposed to sessile plants) and the way bees are treated industrially (being trucked around the country to pollination sites) are both factors that would greatly accelerate the spread and severity of any emerging pathogen.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:51 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]


All the more reason to get neonicotinoids out of our system. If the basic system we are using to pollinate our plants is already so full of doorways for potential pathogens, why do anything that would weaken the immune system of our most important pollinator and make it easier for those pathogens to flourish?
posted by hippybear at 11:57 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


While the threat to honey-producers is empirically quite real, I've begun to suspect that the crop fertilization argument is a bit misleading. The article doesn't make any mentions of problems in domestic bee genetic diversity, and all but ignores other bee species, particulalrly wild bees. The incidence and total impact among feral bees is hardly tracked, due to a number of practical problems. I do wonder whether the die-off of domestic bees might allow the displaced native species to make a comeback; as far as I know, there's no indication either way. I think it's fair to say that the predictions of the loss of flowering crops might be overblown by a news media eager for a science and agriculture story people will actually read and share.
posted by WCWedin at 12:07 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


hippybear: All the more reason to get neonicotinoids out of our system. If the basic system we are using to pollinate our plants is already so full of doorways for potential pathogens, why do anything that would weaken the immune system of our most important pollinator and make it easier for those pathogens to flourish?

First of all, I'm not satisfied by the research that states those pesticides weaken bees' immune systems. That's not usually the effect the studies state (usually having more to do with neurotoxicity effects, such as failing to navigate).

Secondly, if the problem really is pathogens, it would make more sense to attack them via more direct methods. Getting rid of the pesticides might not be enough to save bees, as suggested by bee population crashes that have occurred in countries that don't use the pesticides at all.

Third, I think you weaken your own cause by so obviously having an agenda. Look, modern society cannot survive without modern agriculture, and modern agriculture can't survive without some kind of pesticide. If these particular ones are really that much worse than the real-world alternatives (which, let's remember, are other pesticides), then maybe they must be banned or restricted. But pesticides are incredibly useful tools that should not be lightly discarded and such a decision should be researched fully first, not simply done out of hand due to suspicions and a general fear of 'chemicals'.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:07 PM on June 29 [10 favorites]


Third, I think you weaken your own cause by so obviously having an agenda.

The only agenda I have is that I want food on my table that doesn't cost more per month than my rent. I am not advocating organic, pesticide-farming, and have made literally zero comments in this thread that would lead anyone to think that.

Don't paint me with that brush. It's unfair. I've said things repeatedly here in MeFi for YEARS about worrying about the disappearance of our pollinators, and have never said that chemicals need to be eliminated.

Agenda? Yeah. *holds up mirror*
posted by hippybear at 12:25 PM on June 29 [16 favorites]


and modern agriculture can't survive without some kind of pesticide.

Modern US agriculture can't survive without the tax payer subsidy. The need for many farmers to get loans and the money from FedGov along with lawsuits from the crop genetics firms translates into demands for the use of certain chemicals and seed stock.

Modern US economics has had food at 10% of the family budget. If that moved to the historic 1/3 of the family budget and farmers got more of that money directly that would change the claim of "can't survive".

But do go on about how ag NEEDS all these modern marvels.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:44 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Modern US economics has had food at 10% of the family budget. If that moved to the historic 1/3 of the family budget and farmers got more of that money directly that would change the claim of "can't survive".

But do go on about how ag NEEDS all these modern marvels.


I'm sure Ag would survive just fine, but I'm not sure about the families who would be paying 150% more for food.
posted by Benjy at 12:48 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


but I'm not sure about the families who would be paying 150% more for food.

We're already paying for it. That's where they get the taxes.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:51 PM on June 29


Here's a link to an article that's very skeptical about a ban on nicotinoids. It has the virtue of linking to all the research it cites, so even if you think the author has an axe to grind or is obviously a corporate lackey (or what have you) you can at least see that this is an issue on which the scientists are legitimately undecided.
posted by yoink at 12:51 PM on June 29 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure about the families who would be paying 150% more for food.

If 1/3 of your budget is shelter and historically 1/3 is food that leaves only 1/3 for everyone else. If the Tax Man is taking 50% of the American budget and shelter is at 34% - something has to give if 34% goes to food.

Somehow I don't see the tax man dropping its %age so what you end up with is the food and rent assistance to the poor to attempt to keep social unrest at bay.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:57 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


hippybear: Agenda? Yeah. *holds up mirror*

I don't really have an agenda. I don't work with pesticides and don't have anything to do with them, really. But it really does feel like anytime pesticides could be a problem, a lot of people jump to the conclusion that they must be the problem. However, there is good evidence to support the multiple-cause hypothesis in this case. Often, it feels like people are just using the issue as an excuse to attack pesticides, not really considering the issue itself.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:59 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


If the Tax Man is taking 50% of the American budget and shelter is at 34%...

Federal taxes on middle-income Americans are near historic lows, according to the latest available data. That’s true both for federal income taxes and total federal taxes.
Income taxes: A family of four in the exact middle of the income spectrum filing its taxes for 2013 this filing season paid only 5.3 percent of its 2013 income in federal income taxes, according to estimates from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (TPC). Average income tax rates for these typical families have been lower during the Bush and Obama Administrations than at any time since the 1950s. As discussed below, 2009 and 2010 were particularly low because of the temporary Making Work Pay Tax Credit.
Overall federal taxes: Overall federal taxes — which include income, payroll, and excise taxes, and imputed corporate taxes — on middle-income households in 2009 were at their lowest levels in decades, according to the latest data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

posted by Benjy at 12:59 PM on June 29 [11 favorites]


If the Tax Man is taking 50% of the American budget

What?

The highest tax rate is 39.8%. The majority of taxpayers will be paying 15%.
posted by hippybear at 1:04 PM on June 29 [7 favorites]


What?

Fed + State + Social security + local taxes.

Do feel free to only look at Fed IRS rates to feel better about the tax rate.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:22 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


State and local taxes vary a lot, and even if one does include all of those plus sales taxes, you'd have to be making over $405,750 per year for your overall tax rate to even approach 50%.
posted by hippybear at 1:28 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


As an apiphobe I make jokes about cheering on colony collapse disorder but for real I kind of like having agriculture. Can we just go ahead and get these reforms done?
posted by Drinky Die at 1:28 PM on June 29


That Forbes piece would indeed seem to be written by someone who is known to carry water for the pesticide industry, though. It's SOP to cloud the issue by pointing to industry-funded studies that show no harm.

I don't have an informed opinion on neonics in particular, but the way this story is playing out really exemplifies how bad stuff gets banned in the modern era (cf. asbestos). There's some initial finding by scientists/doctors, pushback from the industry, and the evidence/pushback cycle continues until there's a pile of evidence so big that no rug, however enormous it might be, is large enough to conceal it. One might say that this is how it should be, the bar should be set high for such a severe regulatory action. But to me it seems that the industries hardly ever operate in good faith, and instead actively subvert the scientific process.
posted by Standard Orange at 1:35 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


Can we just go ahead and get these reforms done?

Which reforms? This really isn't a climate change denial situation where the scientific consensus is clear and the industry is just trying to pretend there's a "controversy" in order to delay regulation. The scientists genuinely don't know, at this point, what's going on.
posted by yoink at 1:41 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Well, whichever ones there is consensus on. If there isn't any, then on seriously increased worldwide government funding to get there.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:43 PM on June 29


That Forbes piece would indeed seem to be written by someone who is known to carry water for the pesticide industry, though.

Which is why I suggested looking at the links to actual scientific studies that he provides. Feel free to ignore his text entirely, if you like.
posted by yoink at 1:44 PM on June 29


Let's kill the bees so we can have more corn.
This makes no sense at all. Without bees, there is no food.
Since my land has already has been regulated out of use by the EU, I'm planning to create a bee reservation. I'm not as bitter as I might sound - maybe respect for habitats and endangered species can help us all invent new strategies. What I worry about is the financing as we turn over from one economy to another...
posted by mumimor at 1:45 PM on June 29


Since my land has already has been regulated out of use by the EU, I'm planning to create a bee reservation. I'm not as bitter as I might sound

Planning to train the bees as weapons and live the supervillian life, I'm on to you.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:46 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


The scientists genuinely don't know, at this point

I don't believe that's true, and I'll point you to this link again:

The conclusions of a new meta-analysis of the systemic pesticides neonicotinoids and fipronil (neonics) confirm that they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.

Here's a summary that lays out the problem from the perspective of different groups who might be affected by regulation in Ontario.

We've got ringside seats at a fairly well-defined media battle over who gets to tell the story about neonicotinoid pesticides, their effect on honeybee populations, and the effects of commercial agriculture on various ecosystems. Is that organic popcorn over there?
posted by sneebler at 1:48 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


This is not the first time that beekeepers are being faced with unexplained losses. The scientific literature has several mentions of honey bee disappearances—in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s. While the descriptions sound similar to CCD, there is no way to know for sure if those problems were caused by the same agents as CCD.

I remember reading that CCD is a combination of pesticides and mites but damned if I can find the specific reference.

Perhaps one of our scientists can extract some meaning from here. [pdf] with links to other articles.

I think I see the same but I hate to speculate as I'm well out of my depth.
posted by vapidave at 1:51 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


We've got ringside seats at a fairly well-defined media battle over who gets to tell the story about neonicotinoid pesticides, their effect on honeybee populations, and the effects of commercial agriculture on various ecosystems.

I've never been so happy that I don't have children. Global warming and terrorism be damned, once the pollinators are gone, there goes civilization.
posted by hippybear at 1:52 PM on June 29


I don't believe that's true, and I'll point you to this link again:

I read that link the first time. It is one metastudy that hasn't even been published yet. Certainly it is concerning and deserves serious consideration, but it's rather early to say that this single metastudy which has not even been subject to wider scrutiny and criticism by the scientific community represents the definitive and final judgment of the scientific community on the issue. Metastudies are notoriously vulnerable to various kinds of design weaknesses. Were their criteria for inclusion and exclusion of various studies robust? Did they control for various kinds of confounders adequately etc. etc.?
posted by yoink at 2:05 PM on June 29


mumimor: This makes no sense at all. Without bees, there is no food.

It's not quite so severe as that. Some plants don't require pollination agriculturally, or at least don't require a lot of it. This is true of many vegetables, particularly those not grown from seed (like potatoes). Lots of agricultural plants pollinate via the wind (corn, rice) or self-pollinate (wheat). Some crops use different insects, which might be vulnerable to pesticides, but are unlikely to be affected by diseases or bad agricultural practices connected to honeybees.

Losing honeybees would be bad for some kinds of agriculture, but it wouldn't wipe out humanity or anything.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:21 PM on June 29


Mitrovarr, I understand this completely, I was a biology mayor in college. The thing is, I believe diversity is important in food. For reasons of health as well as as of taste. I worry about the fate of tuna and eels as well as of almonds and peaches. I don't think we know enough about nourishment to discard groups of foodstuffs, and I worry about out future health. So yes, there will be enough corn and soy in the monsanto future, but I am not entirely certain this will be good for us humans.
Remember - the earth will do quite fine without us, but we cannot live without the earth.
Anyway, I have the room for a bunch of honeybees, and so do several of my friends. And we will be happy to branch out when you need us.
posted by mumimor at 2:35 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


...it's rather early to say that this single metastudy which has not even been subject to wider scrutiny and criticism by the scientific community represents the definitive and final judgment of the scientific community on the issue.

(Which I'm not doing, btw.) Fair enough, but by the same token I don't think pointing at a Forbes* article and saying, "The scientists genuinely don't know" is a reasonable treatment of the issue. I'm trying to suggest that there is science that's pointing us towards considering more stringent regulation, for good reasons.

For example, "Current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable due to their impacts on bees and other pollinators," Health Canada then declared in a statement dated Sept. 13, 2013. Health Canada has taken a very conservative approach to discussions about further regulation, I might add.

This is one of those situations where we know enough to believe that it's a serious issue with large negative economic and ecological impacts. Should we listen to the industry who's saying, "No problem here" or to other groups with a legitimate interest in the outcome of a decision to regulate? Demanding definitive proof of future harm is a tactic that's widely used by industry in this kind of discussion.

*Whatever its good points, Forbes' abject failure to treat discussions of climate science with any fairness makes their credibility in any science reporting questionable. They wear their anti-environmental bias on their sleeve.
posted by sneebler at 2:39 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


I'm definitely worried about CCD and the loss of our pollinators. But I cannot help but notice that the evidence that pesticides are the primary culprit seems miles from conclusive. And there's something in the people who insist that it is that unnerves me> This is not because I am convinced pesticides aren't to blame, at least in part. Rather, it's because many of the people who are willing to push this theory do so in a way that makes me wonder if they're really convinced they've found who is to blame or if they're just very upset and they've found something they're very comfortable hanging the blame on.

I'm at a pretty formative stage on my opinions in this. If I'm leaning any particular way, it's that I want to come down on the anti-pesticide camp. But there's something in the arguments those folks make that sets off my Skeptic spider sense.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:50 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


mumimor: Remember - the earth will do quite fine without us, but we cannot live without the earth.

You know, I'm not an anti-environmentalist. I just believe issues need to be separated and dealt with individually, and that people need to not jump to conclusions based on group identity and other issues. I mean, hell, look at this; you assumed I'm anti-environmentalist because I questioned the necessity of bees, whereas I'm a biologist who is strongly for restrictions on fossil fuel usage and believes that climate change and loss of biodiversity are the greatest threats currently facing humanity. I'm totally pro-environment. But you still need to analyze every issue individually.

I think people have a terrible tendency to get into political camps and give summary judgment on issues based upon group dynamics, and this poisons debate.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:55 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


*Whatever its good points, Forbes' abject failure to treat discussions of climate science with any fairness makes their credibility in any science reporting questionable. They wear their anti-environmental bias on their sleeve.

Sigh. Again, no part of my argument was "it can't be true. Forbes says so!" Whatever the faults of that article, it links to real, reputable scientific studies that do, in fact, raise serious questions about the role of neonicitinoids in bee colony diseases. These, certainly, do not settle the question in those pesticides favor, either. But it simply is not the case that there is a current scientific consensus as to what is causing the current problems for bee colonies in the US and elsewhere.
posted by yoink at 2:59 PM on June 29


Eugene, Oregon is moving in the right direction in favor of helping the bees: http://nationswell.com/eugene-oregon-bans-neonicotinoids/ Sure, it doesn't solve everything, but any step that keeps bees here in the world is a good one.
posted by but no cigar at 3:07 PM on June 29


MetaFilterHuman beings as herd animals: get into political camps and give summary judgment on issues based upon group dynamics
posted by rough ashlar at 3:18 PM on June 29


I think people have a terrible tendency to get into political camps and give summary judgment on issues based upon group dynamics, and this poisons debate.

And this tendency to form warring camps is used by the powerful to keep doubt in play as long as possible, even after it is clear that certain behaviors, processes, and/or materials are deleterious.

As a scientist, I still have a small part of me that admires your even-handedness, but for the most part I feel that it does more harm than good. David Roberts, the excellent journalist (at Grist, I think?) says such behavior is like having an enemy army massed on your border and not wanting to take action until we know the thread count of their uniforms.

Large societal issues like climate change require mass political action, and mass political action requires choosing sides (getting into "political camps", as you say). And that's OK. On top of that, all such political action requires that collective decisions be made with incomplete information--and it is precisely the unavoidable incompleteness of available information, and the ambiguity that it results in, that is exploited by corporate spinmeisters.
posted by mondo dentro at 3:38 PM on June 29 [7 favorites]


I've long felt that there is no *one* cause for CCD, but rather a confluence of abuse/exploitation of honeybees. They are stressed in every way - crowded into orchards, where they have to fight for food, trucked around in the country to do their job, robbed of their honey and pollen (the latter the sole source of protein in their diet - PLEASE don't take bee pollen!), given antibiotics and other drugs to combat mites, etc - and we wonder why they're not doing so well? srsly?
It is probably also important to remember that honeybees are not (recently) native to this continent - they were brought here by the settlers at Jamestown. Apparently, they did exist here, just not in recent human history. So yes, we can get along without them, but it will be a poorer world. I'm honestly more concerned about similar effects from mites and pesticides on native pollinators - the Bumblebee seems to be declining in North America (and other areas) - and that is truly frightening.
posted by dbmcd at 5:16 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Beeviously
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:16 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Losing honeybees would be bad for some kinds of agriculture, but it wouldn't wipe out humanity or anything.

I am astounded by your ability to weave your way through a multi-variable analysis to arrive at this conclusion. I, for one, will sleep well tonight!

Sarcasm aside, losing honeybees would stand as one of the most significant environmental disasters in history. I for one, would miss all the flowers.
posted by mygoditsbob at 5:43 PM on June 29


Holy shit, I had no idea they were in garden center plants. I've had a ton of honeybees in my garden this year. And I just bought a whole bunch of perennials. There were actually a lot of bumblebees at the garden center which I noticed and realized I don't normally see but I didn't think beyond that. So hopefully that's a good sign. But I guess if the honeybees disappear I'll know why? And then what? How long are the plants bad? Forever?
posted by HotToddy at 5:55 PM on June 29


I'm with several of you, CCD and the loss of honey bees isn't so cut and dry. I didn't realize until recently how problematic the representation in the media has been. For starters, of course, is that honey bees aren't native. They are livestock, and many problems come from industrial farming pushing them to their limits. And alternatives do exist; IIRC bumble bees are just as good if not better. But they cost more. I like honey bees, but the loss of them would not lead to the devastation of our food crops like we've been led to believe.

The neonicoyoids aren't great, but I do think it's an issue unlike climate change where there is still a lot of debate. Every few years we find the "answer" to the dying honey bees, but it doesn't pan out.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:45 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


mygoditsbob: Sarcasm aside, losing honeybees would stand as one of the most significant environmental disasters in history. I for one, would miss all the flowers.

You drastically overestimate the importance of honeybees. The flowers would be fine.

First of all, honeybees are an introduced species in North America. That means that all native plants are evolved to use other pollinators. Most of those species haven't gone extinct, they've just had their numbers reduced by competition with honeybees. With those gone, they'd recover, and pollinate the native species. Native plants might actually be better off because they'd have their proper evolutionary pollinators again. The only place that would suffer ecologically would be the native range of honeybees, assuming even the wild ones were wiped out (unlikely as they probably have far more genetic diversity than domestic ones).

As far as cultivated flowers, it depends, but most of those would be fine as well. First of all, flowering trees would be fine. They don't need to be pollinated to survive, just reproduce. But cultivated trees are not always grown from seed (often they're grafted), and the small number of seeds needed could easily be produced with hand pollination. No problem there.

Cultivated flowers might be a little harder, but not as much as you'd think. Many of those are already hand pollinated so that you get precise control over strain mixing, etc. It wouldn't even affect those. As far as the rest, there are some that are selfing, and there are some that use other pollinators. The rest could be hand pollinated. Seed prices would go up, but not so much as you'd expect. Most flowers produce loads of seeds. The other visible effect would be that some annuals wouldn't lay down seed themselves, but good gardeners don't rely on that anyway and it might shut down some invasive species (although most of them self, sadly).

It does matter for agriculture, as you do need heavy pollination to produce large numbers of fruits, and the native pollinators don't always work well for introduced agricultural species. But don't overestimate the impact on nature.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:09 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


Eugene, Oregon is moving in the right direction in favor of helping the bees: http://nationswell.com/eugene-oregon-bans-neonicotinoids/ Sure, it doesn't solve everything, but any step that keeps bees here in the world is a good one.

There was a state-wide ban set last summer, which expired after six months. My office was next to the Target Incident that instigated the ban. It was one of the largest mass bee deaths recorded - 50,000 bees died after the trees in the lot were sprayed with Safari (a neonicotinoid). It was truly fucked up. The dead bees were like a carpet on the parking lot. The city came out and put nets around every tree in the parking lot, making them all look like not quite rendered trees from a video game or something. It was really horrible. Everyone in town was devastated, even in the not-typically-environmentally-aware Wilsonville.

I'm skeptical that neocotinoids are the cause of CCD, but it does kill bees, without doubt, and it should be banned.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:17 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Echoing Mitrovarr! Honeybees are not native to North America. In terms of local ecosystems, native pollinators are far more important, but get much less press.

I have a thriving vegetable garden. Based on informal observation, my plants are currently pollinated by native pollinators vs. European honey bees in a 70/30 ratio. If European honey bees were to die off entirely, food producers would have to get much more proactive about encouraging native pollinators. How long would that take? Are native pollinators also being affected by neonicotoids? With all the honeybee handwringing, I haven't seen much on the indigenous pollinator issue.
posted by Wavelet at 10:08 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Are native pollinators also being affected by neonicotoids?

Having done a cursory Google search but not finding a solid article which speaks specifically to this issue (but having found a lot of sideways references), it appears the answer is YES.
posted by hippybear at 10:14 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


You drastically overestimate the importance of honeybees.

Look, I'm a pretty smart guy and I realize that European Honey Bees are not the sole pollinator for the plants in North America. I am however, astonished at the cavalier attitude that you display regarding the threat to a significant part of our environment.

If we are contributing to the problem by our current agricultural practices, it is time to rethink those practices. Coming from the corn belt, I know that a lot of the increased corn yield is turning into ethanol in some kind of wildly inefficient ploy to boost U.S. energy independence.

It's time to rethink a lot of the agricultural policies that put a heavy burden on the environment.
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:25 PM on June 29


Coming from the corn belt, I know that a lot of the increased corn yield is turning into ethanol in some kind of wildly inefficient ploy to boost U.S. energy independence.

I'm pretty sure (but haven't done the research) that corn is not dependent on insects for pollination but is instead wind-dependent.
posted by hippybear at 11:47 PM on June 29


hippybear: I'm pretty sure (but haven't done the research) that corn is not dependent on insects for pollination but is instead wind-dependent.

Pretty much all of the Poaceae (grasses) are either wind or self pollinated. Corn is wind pollinated, I looked it up while doing research in this thread. That's one of the reasons I was suggesting that the loss of bees wasn't the apocalyptic threat people thought it was; most of the main staple crops are either wind pollinated or self pollinated.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:53 PM on June 29


"I am however, astonished at the cavalier attitude that you display regarding the threat to a significant part of our environment."

But his point is that it's not part of the natural environment, it's part of the artificial environment. Losing honeybees would be like losing cows. Which is to say, it very possibly would be an ecological gain for those environments (which includes North America) where it's not a native species.

What it would be bad for would be, first, all the agriculture that relies upon honeybees, and, second, those of us who consume those agricultural products. But, again, that's equally true of cows.

Honeybees aren't the only bees; there are bees native to North America. And bees aren't the only pollinators.

But that raises the question that was asked above: how much are the nicotinoids hurting other bees, other pollinators, and, hell, other insects?

True, it does seem most likely that CCD is a complex pathology with multiple causes and the nicotinoids play an important, but not exclusive, role. But the probability that insecticides aren't the sole cause, or even the dominant cause, is not really reassuring because, arguably, being so artificial and fragile but existing at the sharp intersection between technological agriculture and the more natural ecology, the honeyee may very well be a canary in a coal mine.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:15 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure (but haven't done the research) that corn is not dependent on insects for pollination but is instead wind-dependent.

Sorry the logical chain was obscured, but the nicotinoids are used to boost corn yields. And if they adversely impact honeybees, I would suggest that the effect on native pollinators is less than beneficial.
posted by mygoditsbob at 6:14 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


« Older My Imaginary Friends: The Beauty YouTuber Economy...  |  The year is 1793. In this stor... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments