The US is currently facing a serious condition known as “colony collapse disorder”, in which seemingly healthy bees abandon their beehives. The bees leave no clues as to why they are leaving, making it difficult for scientists to pinpoint what causes CCD.
“Under normal circumstances, other bees would come in to rob honey from the dead beehives” explained Pennsylvania beekeeper David Hakenberg, during an interview with 60 Minutes. But no bees have attempted to move into the abandoned hives. “It was like a ghost town,” he added. Hakenberg, who rents his hives to local farmers for pollination, has lost two thirds of his bees to CCD. On a national level, the bee population has decreased from 4.6 million colonies to 2.4 million in 2006.
Studies on CCD, most of which began in late 2006, attribute cause of death to disease and stress. Autopsies reveal that the bees have high percentages of pathogens, leading scientists to believe that the disorder is triggered by exposure to chemicals and pesticides. This exposure can cause nervous system disorders, memory loss and a breakdown of the immune system.
In addition to this exposure, bees have been subject to stresses caused by the modern world. For example, urbanization has meant bees travel longer distances and work harder to find food. Researchers speculate that climate changes might also have an affect on the bees’ stress levels.
The phenomenon is no longer specific to the U.S. Recently, beekeepers in Europe and Taiwan said they are facing similar problems with their hives.
But as Clarence Collison, a Mississippi entomologist points out, the disorder not only affects the beekeepers and the agricultural community, but wildlife as well.
“Ultimately it will affect fruit and vegetable producing if we don’t have adequate pollination forces,” he said in an interview with the Mississippi agriculture department, adding, “bees pollinate many plants that affect wildlife and birds, so it’s not just our diet that would suffer if bee populations are decimated.”
Currently, a US government funded program has brought together scientists from six universities to determine the exact cause of CCD. There is hope that the proposed Farm Bill will also offer funding to bee research.