February 27, 2007

Bees: Take this job and shove it?

This article in the NYT caught my eye this morning.

Honeybees Vanish, Leaving Keepers in Peril

...Now, in a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, bees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their colonies. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

As researchers scramble to find answers to the syndrome they have decided to call “colony collapse disorder,” growers are becoming openly nervous about the capability of the commercial bee industry to meet the growing demand for bees to pollinate dozens of crops, from almonds to avocados to kiwis.

Along with recent stresses on the bees themselves, as well as on an industry increasingly under consolidation, some fear this disorder may force a breaking point for even large beekeepers.

[...]

Pressure has been building on the bee industry. The costs to maintain hives, also known as colonies, are rising along with the strain on bees of being bred to pollinate rather than just make honey. And beekeepers are losing out to suburban sprawl in their quest for spots where bees can forage for nectar to stay healthy and strong during the pollination season.

“There are less beekeepers, less bees, yet more crops to pollinate,” Mr. Browning said. “While this sounds sweet for the bee business, with so much added loss and expense due to disease, pests and higher equipment costs, profitability is actually falling.”

Some 15 worried beekeepers convened in Florida this month to brainstorm with researchers how to cope with the extensive bee losses. Investigators are exploring a range of theories, including viruses, a fungus and poor bee nutrition.

They are also studying a group of pesticides that were banned in some European countries to see if they are somehow affecting bees’ innate ability to find their way back home.

It could just be that the bees are stressed out. Bees are being raised to survive a shorter offseason, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. That has most likely lowered their immunity to viruses. ...

Wow. This sounds like life in corporate America. Keep working, produce more, do the work of three or four. Who cares about worker safety? There's so much work you can't take a vacation or a personal day and you come in when you're sick. Eventually, something's gotta give, right?

But there's a difference between us and the bees. The bees leave. We stay. We have to. We've got families to feed and no where else to go. The bees? Well, the experts aren't quite sure if they are dying from the stress or just leaving for greener pastures.

Read the whole article. It really is a metaphor for the lives of our American middle class.

1 comment:

Not Your Mama said...

Varroa mite is one of the big culprits. The practice of beekeeping itself has helped in the spread of this and other viral and parasitic agents ableit in a very roundabout way.

By having commercial agriculture become completely dependant upon commercially kept colonies we've been able to ignore the loss of wild colonies. Any parasite or disease that gets a foothold in domestic colonies spreads rapidly infecting all domestic colonies. Add in the publics extreme paranoia about "Africanized" bees and our rush to exterminate anything we perceive as a possible threat....

That's my short, simplistic take on it, I could actually probably write an entire book on the subject but um, yeah, no one would read it, right?

What we can do: short answer, plant for bees, particularly those native to our habitats which incidentally in NV is an incredibly diverse bunch. Upside to this: bee attracting plants next to the front gate discourages door-to-door prosyletizers, reducing incidents of being pestered on Saturday mornings by up to 90%. And no, the bees won't bother you, they are far more interested in the plants than in stinging passing humanoids.