The role played by bees as crop pollinators cannot be disputed. This is the reason why colony collapse disorder or honey bee depopulation syndrome attracts the attention of many scientists and beekeepers, not forgetting the general public. Mystery stands behind the dwindling of bee colonies in America and Europe, a phenomenon that has been observed for a long period now. Reports of colony collapse disorder emerged in the mid-nineteenth century and have continued to be observed across the globe. This paper is an attempt to examine the honey bee depopulation syndrome and endeavor to unravel the mystery behind. It attempts to establish the causes of the phenomenon. Although there has been dedicated research in attempting to understand the issue, what has been put forward as an explanation is still a string of postulations and therefore the cause of colony collapse disorder in honeybee populations still remains an elusive topic. Despite the fact that what has been given as the likely cause of CCD is still based on theories, chemicals stand high chances as principal cause.
A brief introduction of the phenomenon
Colony collapse disorder is a term that has been used in apiculture to describe the continued disappearance or death of worker bees from the colonies or beehives since the early 70s. Although the term found its profound usage in 2006 in describing the mysterious vanishing of the North American honey bee colonies in 2006, the honey bees have continued to vanish in the past and such outbreaks were observed as early as 1869 (Ohio State University Agricultural Research Group 2009). This phenomenon has a significant global economic connotation given that bees are a major constituent of global crop pollinators. It, therefore, attracts significant scholarly and research attention. It must be noted that it is not uncommon for bees to disappear especially during winter seasons. However, when the disappearances become unusual in terms of the magnitude it becomes worrying, not only to the farmer but to the scientists as well. Attributions given to losses in honey bees in the past include pesticide effects, diseases and parasites that attack honey bees, for example, the tracheal and varroa mites. Another causal agent that was labeled for the losses of honey bees in the past was habitat loss. Nevertheless, there was also a gradual decline in the business of beekeeping. This phenomenon is also called honey bee depopulation syndrome.
It has been established that colony collapse disorder is infectious as the bees that attempt to use the left of a dying colony become infected and end up facing or exhibiting similar symptoms.
Background information on the groups of chemicals pertinent to the Case Study
Scientists and researchers have been keen to attempt to uncover the mystery behind the honey bee depopulation syndrome. In their attempt, they have sought to identify the causal agents to these disappearances. Scientists have found that various groups of chemicals like pesticides may form part of the contributing causal agents. In addition, several theories have been formulated to debunk the phenomenon.
Analysis of the key potential causes of the phenomena
The toxicity of pesticides and other chemicals may not be an easy subject to investigate. One group of chemicals that has been touted as contributing to the deaths of honey bees are pesticides. Pesticides are frequently assumed to have a hand in the mortality of honey bees since most of the pesticides used for pest control are also harmful to honey bees. Nevertheless, there have been postulations that the pesticides used are only lethal when used to a certain level. That aside, the bees are still highly likely to be affected at the colony level since the bees may suffer reduced honey production and disappearance of foragers. Imidacloprid- treated sunflower crops lead to the disruption of foraging, dwindling of colonies especially due to failure by worker bees to return to the hives as they die in the fields.
Pesticides have been found to cause changes in the bee dance language and orientation abilities of the bees. Additionally, pesticide exposure significantly reduces the lifespan of the worker bees and makes the supply of essentials to the hives limited.
Antibiotics and miticides have also been blamed for the vanishing bee colonies. Usage of antibiotics and miticides on the bee colonies has been associated with the CCD (Colony collapse disorder). This allegation sprouts from the fact that a bigger percentage of the beekeepers who report being affected by Colony collapse disorder also confirm using these chemicals. However, probably more research is still required in this area to bring out the relationship that might exist between the chemicals and CCD. As a fact, there may be possibility that not most of the chemicals used by the bee farmers have been tested against the effects they would have on the bees. If that be the case, then only thorough research would help unravel the possibility of the chemicals having any effect on the bees. Therefore, in my opinion, there is still no sufficient evidence to claim that chemicals could be the cause.
Besides the miticides and antibiotics, neonicotinoid pesticides are also being examined for any connection with the disappearance of bees especially in Canada. Some insecticides are taken up the plant from the soil moving through the plant tissue and they intoxicate bees when the bees search for nectar in the pollen (Burdick & Caron 2006). Systemic insecticides are therefore likely to play a major role in the death and disappearance of bees from their colonies. Some of these nicotine-based insecticides have effects that are consistent with those of CCD.
Scientific inquiry into the role played by the nicotine- based insecticides in the vanishing of bees has been fuelled by the fact that bee colonies in areas where such chemicals have been used have pointed toward the same symptoms as those of CCD (Ohio State University Agricultural Research Group 2009). Thus, Imidacloprid and fipronil have been found to be toxic to bees as a result of being used as pesticides in Europe in the past. Among the effects of these chemicals include impaired olfactory learning performance, reduced flight activity in the bees and decreased olfactory discrimination since the chemicals are also carried along with the bees to the colonies into the honey and as residue in the pollen.
Apart from the chemicals identified above, some toxic chemicals are also produced from GM crops. Although no sufficient investigation has been carried out to determine the effect of Bt toxin, this chemical is produced by some GM crops. However, connecting GM crops with CCD elicits a controversial debate because there are areas where such crops are not grown yet they have reported CCD cases; more so in Canada and Europe (Decourtye et al 2005). In my opinion, CCD could be caused by a number of causative agents as I have pointed above and one cannot just point on one agent as the cause.
Examination of colony collapse disorder with respect to the causes should be done via a multi-faceted perspective since research into the potential causes of CCD shows that the phenomenon could result from a number of causal agents. Although there are several postulations pointing to the causes of colony collapse disorder, they still remain theories as an in-depth examination is yet to be done for conclusive results with statistical significance. Pathogen loads have been connected with the disorder (USDA 2009). Some researchers have argued that pesticides have been hypothesized to have a negative effect on the bees while others maintain that CCD could be as a result of pathogenic microbes or viruses. Other claims point out that the collapse of bee colonies could be caused by the weakening of colonies by a perfect storm of stresses, which first compromises the immune system of the bees. Such stresses may include migratory stress as bees are transported from one point to another for pollination across the US and Canada. Some postulations point to a failure by the beekeepers to recognize the cause of the disappearances, poor nutrition (probably due to crowding in the beehives), scarcity of pollen or nectar and exposure to contaminated water.
Decourtye, A., J. Devillers, E. Genecque, K. LeMenach, H. Budzinski, S. Cluzeau, and M.H. Pham-Delègue, (2005) Comparative sublethal toxicity of nine pesticides on olfactory learning performances of the honeybee Apis mellifera. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 48:242-250.
USDA (2009) Colony Collapse Disorder Action Plan: Accessible from URL: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/ccd
Burdick, E., & D.M. Caron. (2006) MAAREC beekeeper survey. http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/pdfs/MAARECSurveyPub.pdf
Ohio State University Agricultural Research Group (2009) http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/agnic/bee/ccd.htm
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