VANCOUVER, British Columbia — AROUND the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade. For bees and the plants they pollinate — as well as for beekeepers, farmers, honey lovers and everyone else who appreciates this marvelous social insect — this is a catastrophe.
But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.
Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause, but rather a thousand little cuts. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.
The real issue, though, is not the volume of problems, but the interactions among them. Here we find a core lesson from the bees that we ignore at our peril: the concept of synergy, where one plus one equals three, or four, or more. A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.
These findings provide the most sophisticated data set available for any species about synergies among pesticides, and between pesticides and disease. The only human equivalent is research into pharmaceutical interactions, with many prescription drugs showing harmful or fatal side effects when used together, particularly in patients who already are disease-compromised. Pesticides have medical impacts as potent as pharmaceuticals do, yet we know virtually nothing about their synergistic impacts on our health, or their interplay with human diseases.
Observing the tumultuous demise of honeybees should alert us that our own well-being might be similarly threatened. The honeybee is a remarkably resilient species that has thrived for 40 million years, and the widespread collapse of so many colonies presents a clear message: We must demand that our regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined chemicals may affect human health before approving compounds.
Bees also provide some clues to how we may build a more collaborative relationship with the services that ecosystems can provide. Beyond honeybees, there are thousands of wild bee species that could offer some of the pollination service needed for agriculture. Yet feral bees — that is, bees not kept by beekeepers — also are threatened by factors similar to those afflicting honeybees: heavy pesticide use, destruction of nesting sites by overly intensive agriculture and a lack of diverse nectar and pollen sources thanks to highly effective weed killers, which decimate the unmanaged plants that bees depend on for nutrition.
Recently, my laboratory at Simon Fraser University conducted a study on farms that produce canola oil that illustrated the profound value of wild bees. We discovered that crop yields, and thus profits, are maximized if considerable acreages of cropland are left uncultivated to support wild pollinators.
A variety of wild plants means a healthier, more diverse bee population, which will then move to the planted fields next door in larger and more active numbers. Indeed, farmers who planted their entire field would earn about $27,000 in profit per farm, whereas those who left a third unplanted for bees to nest and forage in would earn $65,000 on a farm of similar size.
Such logic goes against conventional wisdom that fields and bees alike can be uniformly micromanaged. The current challenges faced by managed honeybees and wild bees remind us that we can manage too much. Excessive cultivation, chemical use and habitat destruction eventually destroy the very organisms that could be our partners.
And this insight goes beyond mere agricultural economics. There is a lesson in the decline of bees about how to respond to the most fundamental challenges facing contemporary human societies. We can best meet our own needs if we maintain a balance with nature — a balance that is as important to our health and prosperity as it is to the bees.
Mark Winston, a biologist and the director of the Center for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, is the author of the forthcoming book “Bee Time: Lessons From the Hive.”
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Our Bees, Ourselves. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
It is known that in recent years, honey bee colonies have been experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. As honey bees play an important role in pollinating the agricultural crops, this issue requires prompt solutions. Today scientists investigate some possible causes of this disorder. It is found that the possible causes include viruses, pesticides, parasites, urban sprawl and some other environmental pollutants. This paper investigates the potential contributors to Colony Collapse Disorder, such as antibiotics, miticides, and neonicotinoid pesticides.
Nowadays the issue concerning Colony Collapse Disorder takes a special place in our society. This phenomenon is connected with disappearance of workers bees from a beehive or European honey bee colonies. It is known that such disappearances have already taken place in the history of apiculture. However, today the number of such cases of disappearance is constantly increasing. The term colony collapse disorder first appeared in 2006. Of course, this issue requires prompt solutions because many agricultural crops which grow not only in the America, but throughout the world should be pollinated by bees. According to the statistical data, similar phenomenon can be observed in Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, France, Italy, Germany, Taiwan and Portugal. My goal in this paper is to discuss some possible causes of this phenomenon.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE GROUPS OF CHEMICALS PERTINENT TO THE CASE STUDY
In order to examine the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder from a toxicological standpoint, it is necessary to research three groups of chemicals that are being investigated as potential contributors to Colony Collapse Disorder: antibiotics, miticides, and neonicotinoid pesticides.
Antibiotics are used in beekeeping for treatment of bacterial honey bee diseases. There are many different types of antibiotics; most of them are very effective. For example, terramycin is a broad-spectrum anti-infective antibiotic that has already proved its effectiveness against a variety of different infectious diseases. In most cases these diseases are caused by susceptible Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria which are dangerous for bees.
One more bee antibiotic is oxytetracycline. It may have interaction with some specific bee proteins that are called multiple drug resistance transporters. Oxytetracycline makes them ineffective. In this case the bees are at risk to die from pesticides.
Miticides have a negative impact on bees too. This type of chemicals is used to protect bees from mites. However, such miticides as Avid, Akare, Floramite can be dangerous for bees and can even lead to their disappearance. (Hadley, 2010, para.5)
One more type of chemicals is Neonicotinoids. This class of insecticides acts on the central nervous system of bees and can cause intoxication. Neonicotinoid pesticides are among the most widely used chemicals for bees in the world. Today some countries have already restricted the use of these pesticides because they have many negative effects including weakening of the immune system, different nutrition disorders.
ANALYSIS OF THE KEY POTENTIAL CAUSES OF THE PHENOMENA
Today many theories are developed by the scientists from all over the world in order to explain the major causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which led to disappearance of millions of bees. However, there is no single cause or some definitive answer that can explain this phenomenon. Most researchers of this issue state that there are many possible causes which are interrelated. They include the following ones. First of all, this phenomenon is closely connected with climate change on our planet. The fact that rising global temperatures can cause a so-called chain reaction through the ecosystem, leads to warm winters, floods and drought in summer. It means that plants and trees may blossom earlier, may not form flowers at all. It means that limiting amount of nectar can lead to Colony Collapse Disorder. (Hadley, 2010, para.2)
Secondly, from a toxicological standpoint, chemical can be the main cause of this phenomenon. Pesticides take a special place in this category. Today the use of pesticides poses potential threat to bees. Many beekeepers are sure that Colony Collapse Disorder is closely connected with the use of great amounts of neonicotinoids, or nicotine-based pesticides
Thirdly, parasites can cause this phenomenon. Although such types of parasites as American foulbrood, tracheal mites do not lead to Colony Collapse Disorder, but they weaken the bees’ immune system. However, there are such parasites as varroa mites, Nosema and others which can lead to the above mentioned phenomenon.
Besides the above mentions key potential causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, there are some more possible causes which include environment pollution, the growing of genetically modified crops, malnutrition of bees. (Hadley, 2010, para.5)
SUMMARY OF THE ARTICLES’ CONCLUSIONS AND PERSONAL OPINION ON THE POTENTIAL CAUSES OF THE PHENOMENA
As the issue concerning Colony Collapse Disorder is widely discussed by the scientists and researcher from different countries of the world, one can find a lot of articles and reports which discuss this global problem. For example, D.J. Hawthorne and G. Dively, the authors of the report Killing Them with Kindness? In-Hive Medications May Inhibit Xenobiotic Efflux Transporters and Endanger Honey Bees discuss this phenomenon which occurs in many countries. The researchers prove the fact that a widely used in-hive medication can injure the life of bees. They may be more susceptible to toxicity of pesticides. Moreover, this interaction may lead to the continuing bee population loss on our planet. The researchers investigated the health of pre-treated healthy honey bees with the antibiotic oxytetracycline, and then exposed them to the pesticides that are widely used in bee hives to kill parasitic varroa mites. The results showed the following: the pre-treated bees were more sensitive to pesticide’s exposure than the bees that were not treated with this antibiotic. (Hawthorne & Dively, 2011, p.2)
One more report which discusses the issue of Colony Collapse Disorder is the report Diagnosis of Honey Bee Diseases written by Hachiro Shimanuki and David A. Knox. The researchers represent a lot of useful information concerning different honey bee diseases and methods to prevent them. Moreover, they find out that disease interactions can lead to colony collapse disorder. They list a great number of symptoms and prove the fact that most diseases are connected with negative effects of pesticides.(Hachiro & Knox, 2000, p.3)
My personal opinion concerning the above mentioned phenomenon is based on the fact that Colony Collapse Disorder is a result of such an intensive bee treatment which includes hundreds of different chemicals. It is necessary to reduce the use of chemicals as soon as possible.
Hadley, D. (2010) Ten Possible Causes of Colony Collapse Disorder. Theories Behind the Sudden Disappearance of Honeybee Hives. About.com. Retrieved from:http://insects.about.com/od/antsbeeswasps/tp/CausesofCCD.htm
Hawthorne D.J., Dively G.P. (2011) Killing Them with Kindness? In-Hive Medications May Inhibit Xenobiotic Efflux Transporters and Endanger Honey Bees. PLoS ONE 6(11).
Hachiro, S. & knox, D. (2000) Diagnosis of Honey Bee diseases. US Department of Agriculture. Agriculture Handbook No.AN-690. Retrieved from:<http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/np/honeybeediseases/honeybeediseases.pdf>