April 29, 2010

Mass Honey Bee Die Off Has Many Reasons

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said Wednesday that the dramatic die-off of honey bees around the world, threatening crops that rely on the insects for pollination, is not due to any one single factor.

The OIE said that a host of issues are plaguing the honey bees - including parasites, viruses, bacterial infections, pesticides, and poor nutrition resulting from the impact of human activities on the environment.

Bee colonies naturally lose about 5 percent of their populations annually. But with the syndrome called colony collapse disorder (CCD), anywhere from 30 to 90 percent of the insects are being wiped out.

In the United States alone, data released by the government last month showed a 29 percent drop in beehives in 2009. That's a continuing drop from similar numbers in the previous two years.

The impact of the bee decline will affect agriculture around the world, potentially causing tens of billions of dollars in non-reversible damage.

"Honey and royal jelly are examples of precious food that we owe to bees but foremost we owe them abundant harvesting of fruits and vegetables since they contribute to pollinate the flowers which will produce the harvest," Bernard Vallat, the OIE's Director General, told the AFP news agency.

If bees become extinct, it would have a devastating effect on global food security. It would "represent a terrible biological disaster," he said in a statement.

It is likely that almost a third of the food we eat would no longer be available to us if the Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera) was to die off completely.

OIE experts conducted a global review and found that "reckless use" of pesticides may have contributed to the damage to bee health by increasing their susceptibility to different diseases.

Climate change may also be a contributing factor to their decline, experts said.

Many countries do not have the proper resources to supervise, inspect, diagnose and research these animals.

Some other research has also found that different bee parasites are active in different areas of the world.

Scientists have identified some threats already, including a blood-sucking mite called Varroa, and a single-celled fungal parasite called Nosema cerenae. In Europe, the Asian Hornet captures honey bees in mid-flight and devours them.

Poor nutrition is also affecting honey bees. Farms stripped of important hedgerows and wild flowers are depriving bees of a decent diet. The spreading of human habitation also affects bee populations.

Vallat has called for more research and observance of OIE guidelines. Bee trade between countries is also a major cause of global contamination.


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