The honeybees are still dying
May 7, 2012 10:52 PM   Subscribe

Bees :(
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:02 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe the Mayans knew something we didn't.
posted by infini at 11:06 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

We had this thread last month on the same class of pesticides but from the opposite perspective. I wrote this there,

Most of us should be able to come up with a list of sensible hypotheses as to why this might be happening, namely selective breeding leading to a loss of diversity, novel viral and fungal infections, malnutrition effects from consuming monocultures of commercial crops, novel pesticides, weird downstream microbial effects of using antibiotics, and the novel system of traveling apiaries. It seems many of us can also come up with laughably dumbass ones like EM radiation, GM crops, and insufficient Purity Of Essence. However, if you learn a bit about beekeeping and get out a big map of the world with affected areas highlighted you'll be able to see pretty clearly how it couldn't only be selective breeding because CCD affected multiple strains of bee at the same time, it was unlikely to only be a microbial thing because there was no pathogen that was isolated from all of the affected colonies in every affected country, it was unlikely to be only malnutrition because it was happening to bee populations that consumed multiple crops simultaneously, it was unlikely to be only pesticides because there was no pesticide that was universal to all of the affected areas, it was unlikely to be only antibiotic use because CCD occurred in antibiotic free colonies too, and that it was unlikely to be only the new traveling apiaries because CCD happened in countries that didn't have them. EM radiation should look really absurd because apiaries in cities seemed to if anything be better protected, and so should GM crops because DNA is scary isn't a valid theoretical model and Europe without GM was really hard hit.

The answer that should become really fucking obvious is that CCD is likely the result of a complex combination of at least most of these factors. Each factor making the population more vulnerable to the others.

posted by Blasdelb at 11:10 PM on May 7, 2012 [13 favorites]

And once again, I feel myself worrying that we're reaching the limits of science...the fact that Australia simply hasn't seen significant CCD, despite a decade of neonicotinoids ("New Nicotines") is pretty compelling data. How did it not come up in all the discussions before?

I guess this is Science, but still. Damn.
posted by effugas at 11:11 PM on May 7, 2012

Maybe the Mayans knew something we didn't.

How timely. There is an interesting discussion in an AskMeFi just posted a couple of hours ago about possible causes of extinction for the human race. In it, there are a few relevant comments and links about bees and their importance in the food chain. (Linking them here in case the original posters don't notice this thread.)
posted by Kevtaro at 11:22 PM on May 7, 2012

i told my boy cat to cut it out already with the bee hunting. he never listens.
posted by mwhybark at 11:24 PM on May 7, 2012

As the article notes, still completely not recorded in Australia, and we are just as hearty a bunch of pesticide users and GM advocates as anyone, well as much as Europe at least, if not the US.

Reckon it's a virus that hasn't been found yet.
posted by wilful at 11:33 PM on May 7, 2012

I'd favourite Blasdelb's comment except for the claim that it's "really fucking obvious". Which it clearly isn't, unless you're a genius expounding on some general interest internet board.
posted by wilful at 11:35 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Somehow I can't get beyond the fact that no bees is good commercial news for agribusiness . Pesky little patent ignoring blighters.
posted by mattoxic at 12:38 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

FWIW, our bees here in Ireland are apparently doing fine, thanks for asking.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:44 AM on May 8, 2012

OTOH, urban beekeeping appears to be gaining in popularity.
posted by telstar at 1:03 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

at the end of this blog post neil gaiman captures a swarm.
posted by nadawi at 1:18 AM on May 8, 2012

Honeybees make yields on beig monocultures more reliable, which is good for certain farms and certain crops, but I find the honeybee losses distressing mostly because I like honey.

Native bees can be darn good pollinators when given places to live and consistently available crops to eat. Just happens that industrial-level agriculture doesn't often supply those.
posted by zennie at 1:19 AM on May 8, 2012

Poor bees.
posted by pracowity at 1:40 AM on May 8, 2012

As the article notes, still completely not recorded in Australia:

And that's not all: places where neonicotinoid pesticides have been banned, such as France, Italy and Germany, there’s no evidence that honeybee populations have rebounded. And in Australia, which has among the healthiest bee herds in the world and has never reported a case of CCD, neonicotinoids have been in widespread use for over a decade. Australian agriculture isn’t as industrialized as in the U.S., where beekeepers make a living by dragging their hives from monocrop to monocrop, feasting their bees on one single nectar and pollen source, and then moving them on to the next. “The only situation in Australia where honeybees used for pollination are strongly restricted to one crop,” Australian bee pathologist Denis Anderson told me, “is in the pollination of almonds. However, we don't see losses among those colonies, even though neonicotinoids are used in the almond industry.”

This evidence seems sort of hard to ignore.

Poor bees.

If indeed the cause is a virus/parasite - and why not? the honey bee is a feral species in many places - then it is Mother Nature who is causing the harm. Can it still be "poor bees" if pitiless Nature is to blame?
posted by three blind mice at 1:48 AM on May 8, 2012

posted by pracowity at 1:49 AM on May 8, 2012 [8 favorites]

FWIW, our bees here in Ireland are apparently doing fine, thanks for asking.

erm, no, they are not
posted by fistynuts at 2:20 AM on May 8, 2012

Not in my back garden. They're buzzing around quite happily.

Hmm. Not in my back yard. Does this make me a NIMBEE?
posted by Decani at 2:36 AM on May 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

three blind mice: "If indeed the cause is a virus/parasite - and why not? the honey bee is a feral species in many places - then it is Mother Nature who is causing the harm. Can it still be "poor bees" if pitiless Nature is to blame?"

The mite that is potentially the greater instigator of CCD is a species from Asia that has co-evolved with a honeybee species there; it has now been spread to other species without adaptation to it. Like most large-scale ecological problems, it's not really the fault of "nature", but humans messing with it. See also: chestnut blight, hemlock woolly adelgid, sudden oak death, rats on islands, Melaleuca in the Everglades, & cetera.

Of course, honeybees weren't in the Americas until Europeans brought them here, either.
posted by Red Loop at 3:31 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

thanks, hadn't seen that - but the article seems to draw a conclusion not made in the study ... I'll see if I can get the paper

The study looked at wing samples submitted from bee-keepers across Ireland over the past three years, using morphometry to examine vein patterns. Set patterns can be used to determine the percentage purity of the bee in terms of its species.

I haven't seen anything linking CCD to selective breeding.

My (single sample) experience has been of significant inexplicable hive losses.

“We don’t believe things to be all that fraught,” said Dr Michael Geary, of the institute’s department of applied science. “Our study shows we have a robust native strain of Apis mellifera mellifera [the dark Irish bee] still alive and, more importantly, dominant in Ireland.”

Great, scientists believing stuff without any evidence - maybe he's just happy to get his name in the papers.

While some Irish bee-keepers have seen high losses, Mr McDonnell said it was difficult to establish if this was part of the worldwide trend worrying many scientists or due to bee husbandry or the introduction of non-indigenous species.

hmm, diffcult ... guess we should go with the easier assumption then
posted by fistynuts at 3:38 AM on May 8, 2012

Maybe it's all for the good.

Finally, honey bees are an invasive species in practically all areas where they are introduced and they commonly steal pollen from native plant species without pollinating or while pollinating them inefficiently, reducing their seed production. Thus, although the primary cause of the accelerating increase of the pollinator dependence of commercial agriculture is economic and political, rather than biological, the rapid expansion in the cultivation of many pollinator-dependent crops has the potential to trigger future pollination problems for both these crops and native species in adjacent areas. Such environmental costs warrant recognition and consideration during the development of agricultural and conservation policies.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 3:39 AM on May 8, 2012

Morbeedity caused by obeesity?
posted by hal9k at 3:46 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

fistynuts: did you read the part about "Our study shows..."

That's the part where they gather evidence and observations, which you could probably find in a paper somewhere.
posted by sneebler at 4:59 AM on May 8, 2012

In Ontario, lots of mysterious bee kills outside of colonies that may be related to pesticides happening this spring.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:12 AM on May 8, 2012

My single data point: The number of wild honeybees in my yard seems to have been dwindling every year. This year I've had hordes of carpenter bees, but haven't seen a single honeybee. (There is a fair amount of agriculture in my surrounding area.)

The bee discussions on the blue the last year have led me to decide to take up suburban beekeeping. It was a little late to get started this year, but I've started studying and have downloaded plans to make some hives this fall/winter.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:37 AM on May 8, 2012

I love bees.
posted by The Bellman at 7:12 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

All might not be lost as the honey bee is not indigenous to North America anyway. Nature will eventually find a way to fill the gap...just probably not to meet human demands.
posted by samsara at 7:14 AM on May 8, 2012

Symbolically at least, I find the dead bees story as depressing as climate change or anything else humans are doing to screw up the planet. I mean, we're killing the goddam honeybees? WTF is wrong with us!?!
posted by nowhere man at 7:32 AM on May 8, 2012

All might not be lost as the honey bee is not indigenous to North America anyway. Nature will eventually find a way to fill the gap...just probably not to meet human demands.

You make it sound so surgical and clean, but although this gets framed as a North American bee problem, it's really bigger than that. Pollinating insects are declining globally. That's a much bigger problem than just honey bees, although these things seem to get more attention when they're put in terms of a threat to the production of something we enjoy consuming. (honey.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:44 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a much bigger problem than just honey bees,...


This seems to be happening across a large number of indicator species. Honeybees and amphibians, in particular, seem to be living in apocalyptic times these days. We need to find the right answers; all God's critters got a role to play.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:55 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not the bees!
posted by Damienmce at 8:18 AM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Honeybees were never designed to live in a North American climate, but were an introduction into the North American ecosystem by European settlers. A more typical native American bee is the orchard mason bee, who are very valuable for pollination purposes, but don't produce honey.
posted by jonp72 at 8:30 AM on May 8, 2012

It's true that they are not native to North America, but they are native to some similarly cold environments. See the map here. If they can endure Northern Europe, they ought to be able to deal with North America.
posted by pracowity at 10:29 AM on May 8, 2012

Gotta get my that algal-protein paste recipe, sounds like it'll be the only thing growing in a century or two.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:38 AM on May 8, 2012

WTF is wrong with us!?!

Two things: sheer numbers and rapid technological progress. The latter gives us the ability to alter our environment much more quickly than we can understand it; in general the more rapidly we change things the faster the unintended consequences pile up. And there are now so many of us that virtually everything we do has major effects on everything else.

If we were collectively smarter than we are, we'd be making family planning education and contraception available for free to women worldwide; we'd also be providing universal health care at no direct cost to patients. Together, these measures would cause a purely voluntary birth rate cut, stabilizing world population or even starting to shrink it to more sustainable levels.

The fact that we're not doing that is the best demonstration I can think of that the standard ecological model of predator-free population dynamics (relentless increase to the point of total resource collapse, followed by a starvation-driven population crash) applies every bit as much to H. sapiens as to mus musculus or Chortoicetes terminifera.
posted by flabdablet at 10:54 AM on May 8, 2012

My plea to chemical polluters, pesticide and herbicide producers, leave the bees alone, if you must kill off species, how about can we please have a MCH instead? Mosquito Collapse Hallelujah? I'm sure I'll immediately be told about all the fish species that will disappear if MCH happens. OK, ok, how about HFCA? House Fly Collapse Hallelujah? I don't care what else dies with the house flies, I want the flying garbage to be gone!

Back when I was a callow youth, I had all sorts concerns about complex ecological effects and feared doing the wrong thing and agonized over buying this or that product so that I don't affect the universe in all sorts of dire ways. Now, as a caring middle ager, my concerns are based purely on aesthetics, so f.ex. I have multiple hummingbird feeders, cause them hummers are purdy, and I hate pigeons, because they shit up the place and are filthier than rats, and I want to see them all extirpated from the cities. In this case, I like honey, so I say keep the bees, I hate house flies, so I want them extirpated cause they're annoying.

And thanks to this aesthetic approach, one day all that we'll have left is a sickly population of large photogenic mammals, because humans can get behind preserving, say, large cats, but can't be bothered to care about obscure small creatures that actually make up 99.999999% of a healthy ecology. Oh, and plenty of hummingbirds, feeding on flowers (but only the pretty flowers).
posted by VikingSword at 12:00 PM on May 8, 2012

Thanks, bees.

posted by The otter lady at 12:19 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

three blind mice: "If indeed the cause is a virus/parasite - and why not? the honey bee is a feral species in many places - then it is Mother Nature who is causing the harm. Can it still be "poor bees" if pitiless Nature is to blame?"

consider this reality - the normal 'wild' bee makes its cells of a 4.6?-4.9 mm size. Long ago someone figured out a bee can bee made bigger if you make the cell 5.1 mm in size. Upside - can hold more Honey. Downside - stays in the cell for a few more days. The extra time in the cell leads to the mites being able to better exploit the bees.

And as for "mother nature" - are the Hatians "poor" folkes when "mother nature" had an earthquke a few years ago? How about when the cooling failed after the earthquake in Fukushima - they just "poor folkes" too?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:03 PM on May 8, 2012

Dear contributors to this thread: Stop making bee puns and I'll stop being compelled to favorite you.

You may have noticed there could have been a bee pun in the preceding sentence. I chose not to go down that path out of basic common decency.
posted by figurant at 9:02 PM on May 8, 2012

Sue Hubbell's A Book of Bees has given me more reading pleasure than anything else I've ever read. If you want to understand bees, this is a great place to start.
posted by neuron at 10:17 PM on May 8, 2012

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