May 21, 2009

US Honeybee Population Still Threatened

Risks still surround the fate of the honeybee, the Associated Press reported.

A shocking 29% of honeybee hives in the US have died off in the last year, however this is less of a loss than what was noted in 2007 and 2008. 

A survey released Tuesday by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the Department of Agriculture's Honey Bee Lab, indicated that the situation for the tiny insects with the task of pollinating various important food groups was still very precarious. 

"This is the third winter in a row where we've lost almost a third of the colonies," says Dennis van-Engelsdorp, Apiary Inspectors president.

In 2007, the hive loss reported was 31.8%, followed by a 35.8% loss in 2008.  Beekeepers work hard to establish new hives, but it is very expensive and requires large amounts of time.  Of the approximate 900 migratory bookkeepers in the US, VanEngelsdorp fears that some of these may be forced to go out of business due to the losses. 

Scientists know that bees are dying partly because of new fungal diseases and from exposure to an Asian parasite called the vampire mite, yet additional undetermined causes are still being researched.

What is also unknown and cause for continued investigation is the phenomena termed colony collapse disorder.  This is a practice in which healthy worker bees abandon the hive and honey contained within, leaving the queen and immature workers to die.   

"It's altruistic suicide," Van-Engelsdorp says. "The workers somehow know they're sick, and in an attempt to stop their sisters from getting infected, they fly away."

But it remains a mystery as to what is making them sick. 

Van-Engelsdorp proposes, "It might be nutrition, new and changed pathogens, and also possibly pesticide exposure." Genetically engineered crops offer no proof of playing culprit, he added.  Studies have revealed that genetically engineered pollen fed to bees does not shorten their lifespan. 

It is crucial, Van-Engelsdorp said, for honeybees to continue to do the work required for pollination-dependent crops like almonds, apples, blueberries, cranberries, pumpkins, watermelons and cucumbers.   


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