Tuesday, September 2, 2008

bees and ccd

By now you've heard about the alarming loss of entire colonies of bees. The phenomena is referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which in itself is disturbing. Can you classify the deaths of so many bees as a "disorder?"

Two articles appeared in the latest issue of Gourmet magazine (of all places) that I wanted to share. The first, was written by Ian Knauer regarding lessons learned from his grandfather who was a beekeeper. The author points out that the pollination of produce by bees amounts to approximately $21 billion annually. I think it is telling that the impact of the loss of bees is felt most when quantified in dollars.

Thus far, entomologists theorize the cause of CCD is a virus, which by itself "is not enough to kill a bee, let alone a whole hive. But when combined with other viruses, predators, pests and bacteria, the virus appears to cause a breakdown of the immune system, and the insects become unable to fight off disease. Autopsies performed on infected bees have found almost every virus, bacteria, and pathogen known to affect bee health. The hives, frames, and wax that remain after the bees have disappeared contain toxic levels of any numbers of diseases." Beekeepers in the past have prided themselves on the longevity of their hives: a hallmark of their caretaking skills. "Over time, the wax (in these hives) becomes dark golden, even chocolate-colored." Thus the legacy of time and many, many generations of bee colonies are now being destroyed in an instant of fire and smoke. "Wax melts over wood and sets a flame that seems too great for its kindling. Pollen sizzles and honey boils."

The companion article by Heather Smith, discusses what can be done if the population of honeybees continue to diminish. A honeybee is one of 20,000 bee species. Apparently there are also 200,000 other species of insects that are responsible for pollinating fruits and vegetables. One strategy suggests allowing small sections of cultivated land to revert to their "wild" state (simply leaving them unmowed for example). Also, placing small "habitats" for these insects in these areas will promote the presence of alternative pollinators. The author states that honeybees are really not the best pollinators since they usually settle upon repetitive flight patterns as they go about their business. Disruption of these flight patterns by other bees and insects actually promotes a wider range of pollination. While this article suggests that we may not be impacted by the loss of bees as much as we might fear through such strategies, it is still frightening to me that we are suffering a loss to our ecosystem that may not be resolved.

I am reminded of the people who claim there will be benefits to the melting of the polar ice caps; the opening of new trade routes through previously hazardous ocean territories or the opportunity for tourists to easily visit areas previously confined to a few intrepid travelers. Is it just me or do such perspectives only reveal further our own self-absorption and interest to the exclusion of the larger concerns that deserve our attention?

1 comment:

Stacie Raddatz said...

Stephen- My sister is friends with a great photographer at http://naomimasinaphotography.blogspot.com/
Do you think she is good? I didn't read this post yet about the bees, but I do know my pumpkin patch is suffering... NOT ONE PUMPKIN this year. No bees came to pollinate, I guess. We will just have to buy them at the local nursery this year, and hope their supplier had better luck in attracting the bees.