The Case of the Vanishing Bees

The Case of the Vanishing Bees

BeeIf you’ve noticed that there aren’t as many bees buzzing around your magnolias lately, or that you haven’t been “stung” during the family picnic in quite some time, it probably isn’t your imagination. The number of honey bees in the U.S. and abroad has been declining steadily for the past several years, and it’s all due to a mysterious syndrome called colony collapse disorder (CCD). This phenomenon, which has affected more than 30 percent of bee colonies in the U.S., could have a huge impact on the global agricultural market because so many plants (some 52 of the world’s 112 leading crops) rely on insect pollination.

Colony Collapse Disorder

From 1972 to 2006, a significant reduction in the number of feral honey bees occurred in the U.S. At the same time, beekeepers were reporting a gradual decline in the number of colonies they maintained. By late 2006, the rate of disappearance had increased to alarming proportions, and the term “colony collapse disorder” emerged as the newest “buzz word” to describe the sudden, dramatic rash of disappearances. By February 2007, commercial beekeepers in several states reported losing 30 to 90 percent of their bee colonies. The decline continues.

Possible Causes

The cause of CCD has not yet been conclusively determined. While several theories have been suggested, from parasites to cell phone radiation, many researchers believe that it may be due to a variety of things in combination like pesticide exposure, blood-feeding parasites, bee viruses, fungi and decreased plant diversity causing poor nutrition for the bees. “It’s a complex interaction of several different factors that are causing bees to die, resulting in quick colony decline,” said Jeff Pettis, entomologist and chief researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland.

Economic Implications

With the human population increasing rapidly, there is concern that the bee decline may result in a global economic crisis involving limited crops and ever rising food prices. In 2009, a study by economists estimated the value of insect pollination, mainly by bees, at about $212 billion. Researchers are hopeful that someday we may determine the cause of CCD, and ultimately save the busy, buzzing insects that are so crucial to the agricultural market, here and abroad.

Classroom Discussion

  • Imagine if all of the bees in the world were to suddenly disappear tomorrow. Discuss the ways in which this would affect the world as we know it.
  • Study the characteristics and behaviors of bees. List five ways in which you feel that bees are similar to people.
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Posted on October 26, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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