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June 21, 2013

Outdoors: Bees are important pollinators on the North Shore

Bees are in trouble. All over North America we are seeing an alarming decrease in bee numbers that have scientists baffled as to the cause. Called colony collapse disorder (CCD), the Agricultural Research Services, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA), is leading several research efforts to try to find a reason for the reduction in numbers.

Annual losses in the years 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent per year. Although losses in 2011-2012 were only 22 percent, researcher are not sure that there has really been a recovery. Right now there are about 2.5 million commercial colonies in the United States. Here on the North Shore there are many orchards and farms that rely on bee colonies to pollinate their crops. The almond growers in California need at least 1.5 million colonies just to service their trees. When you add in all of the other fruits berries, nuts and vegetables that need honey bees as pollinators, it amounts to about one-third of our diet.

There are four general categories that are being investigated for causes.

Pathogens such as viruses and bacteria; parasites that include Varroa mites; management stresses such as being transported too far during commercial enterprises; and environmental stresses such as limited or contaminated water, exposure to pesticides, and low nutritional value pollen. In a Public Library of Science study in 2006, it was found that there were 121 different types of pesticides within 887 wax, pollen, bee and hive samples.

“The pollen is not in good shape,” said Chris Mullin of Penn State University, lead author of the above study.

Honey bees are not native to North America. They were brought here from Europe by new settlers. However, they have grown in importance more than various other insects that can be pollinators because honey bees are more prolific and are easier to manage on a commercial level. That being said, the development of bee colonies is not an easy task.

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