Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bees ARE Dying - BUT is it Really Colony Collapse Disorder ?

No one disputes that bees die overwinter, especially in tough winter conditions. The real argument is whether the so called CCD - syndrome is really a disease or just the sum of many issues occurring.

An Australian has now added a more realistic tone to the debate. It is worth reading.


[reproduced off Qld Country Life on line]

A new unexplained disease is supposedly laying waste to honeybees in the United States, but one of the world’s leading bee pathologists, CSIRO’s Dr Denis Anderson, is yet to be convinced that it’s actually happening.

Dr Anderson is a leading expert on a tangible bee threat, the varroa mite, but the well-travelled scientist can’t buy into the story of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the malaise that is supposedly behind the death of up to a third of US honeybee hives last winter. “CCD is a recently invented term for an old disorder: winter losses,” Dr Anderson suggested. "And we all know that losses over winter are due to a range of factors, from varroa to nutrition and management.”

Commercial beekeepers in the US have always accepted winter losses of 10-20 per cent, Dr Anderson said. Bees die in times of hardship, like everything else. The difference is that since the alarm was raised about bee deaths in 2006-07, and CCD was employed as a cover-all term for the issue, detailed statistics have been recorded on losses.

Dr Anderson has some issues with this.

One is that deaths from hives maintained by amateur beekeepers are being lumped in with hives kept by professionals. Amateurs tend to have higher losses because their hives are less closely managed.
Another is the question of baseline. For the last few years bee death statistics have been used as evidence for the presence of CCD—but Dr Anderson points out that prior to 2007, statistics on honeybees were less rigorously maintained, so there is no firm basis for comparison.

He is also wary of the fact that the CCD surveys in the US are being conducted by the same research agencies that are receiving funding to investigate CCD. “It’s a bit like putting a politician in charge of their own popularity polling,” he said.

His own view is that CCD is being inappropriately being applied as a single symptom to hive failures that are in reality caused by a range of different challenges. “We need to get rid of the term ‘CCD’ and deal with each event as a separate issue,” Dr Anderson said. “There are enough problems out there for bees—no need to invent another one.”

In this, Dr Anderson is in accord with bee researchers, pro-CCD or not.

US researchers investigating the CCD phenomenon acknowledge that it doesn’t appear to have a single cause, and no single cause has emerged as being more likely than another.

The United Kingdom’s National Bee Unit has investigated winter bee deaths, and concluded that the UK doesn’t have CCD but is losing bees for a range of other reasons.

Pesticides are a frequently-cited potential culprit in CCD. In Dr Anderson’s view pesticide exposure was possibly behind the intial CCD alarm raised in 2006 by a Pennsylvania apiarist.

He has met the apiarist, who again made the news in reports of 2010 bee losses, and notes that he hasn’t moved his hives from the area where the initial losses were incurred.

A US study published last month found that American bees carry a high load of pesticide and metabolite traces: 121 different chemicals were found in 900 hive samples. But the authors still warned against jumping to conclusions. “While exposure to many of these neurotoxicants elicits acute and sublethal reductions in honey bee fitness, the effects of these materials in combinations and their direct association with CCD or declining bee health remains to be determined,” they wrote.



I think the title is misleading. As the Dr Anderson says: "There are enough problems out there for bees—no need to invent another one." A better title would be: Bee "Colony Collapse a myth"? Also I doubt very much that amateurs are affecting the losses. For one thing many amateurs tend not to report losses. Most of the ones I know are doing OK and often know the reasons for losses. But bad summer/winter = high loss anywhere. Surely in question (and not really mentioned in this article) should be some of the high density, commercial migratory practices which put a massive artificial strain on bees. We take their honey and feed them corn syrup, lock them up in warehouses over winter, ship them thousands of miles, and treat them with chemicals and acids. With nature you get what you put in my view.
Posted by jon, 17/05/2010 7:36:03 PM

This is indeed a very well written article which I tend to agree with. Having spoken to a number of beekeepers myself, all of whom appear to be in agreement that this CCD is tantamount to scaremongering! None of the beekeepers are put off continuing with their hobby as all agree that to incur losses amongst their hives is to be expected. It just makes for better beekeepers the following season. However, let us not forget that our honey bees are vital for our very way of life and we do all need to be aware of this. Lets hope its the CCD theory that dies out and not them or us. Too many theories without real foundation is not what we need, more help for beekeepers who should seek it is the only real answer in my opinion. Janette from: http://www.health-benefits-of-hon ey.com
Posted by Janette Marshall, 18/05/2010 12:55:23 AM

Dr. Anderson is arguing semantics. He is also lumping pesticide loss, nutrition, genetics and what not... into the term "winter losses". I.e., he is commenting as if this is something "normal." It's not normal. And it is not just an issue in the USA. Pesticide usage is at an all time high. All pollinators are in steep decline, and there are serious issues with genetic diversity and other factors with honey bees. CCD is just a grouping of similar symptoms that were simply not something that was common in the past. Not this common. I have met and know some of the researchers looking into the problem. They are not being disingenuous. Sure, they may or may not be on the right trail, but they, at least the ones I know, are not being unethical. Call it "winter losses" but "winter losses" are significantly higher now. Help us, Dr. Anderson. Conclusively determine *why* winter losses are truly higher (and they are), Dr. Anderson. That would helpful. And then let's try to solve it together. Call it "MPD"? Massive Pollinator Decline? Semantics. -tawster, beekeeper
Posted by tawster, 18/05/2010 4:04:32 AM

Or just like everything else, we are shipping them out of the country. We are sending most of ours to USA.
Posted by pm in waiting, 18/05/2010 7:35:03 AM.


Loss of pollinators IS a big issue for many in agriculture. The article does raise a few notable issues for pondering though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a bee colony inside my patio wall and some of the bees come out dying. The younger bees seem to be able to fly away. Bees are coming and going...some don't even look like yellow jack bees. These are larger with black tails.
I told my exterminator to leave them alone. Why are they dying?