Causes of Honey Bee Decline

bees 4 I visited Hidcote Manor Gardens in Warwickshire earlier today. They have several honey bee hives and a notice board claiming three different reasons for the decline in honey bee colonies across the UK.

“The number of honey bee colonies in the UK has halved in recent years. This is probably due to:
1. The use of agricultural pesticides and chemicals;
2. Varroa mites, blood sucking parasite which seriously weaken or even wipe out whole colonies; and
3. Cold wet summers which prevent bees from leaving the hives to gather food.”

I wonder how much evidence there is for the three possible causes and which might be having the most impact?

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14 Responses to Causes of Honey Bee Decline

  1. a jones June 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Bee populations tend to fluctuate with weather so a series of poor summers, wet and cool can cause serious reductions. To some extent good husbandry can combat this but modern intensive apiculture where bees are often trucked hundreds of miles to pollinate makes for difficulties in keeping stock free from disease and parasites.

    There are several parasites and always have been and their populations and thus effects tend to wax and wane for reasons we little understand.

    In general bees are not affected by pesticides because their body mass is high and they are of their nature itinerant and so do not pick up any significant dosage: which in any event they are very resistant to. Thus nicotine derivatives have little or no no discernible effect on them and attempts to ban these in the EU have for the moment failed.

    Changes in agriculture practices do of course affect bees in terms of available food but this part and parcel, indeed the mirror, of modern industrial beekeeping.

    In short panics about colony collapse are nothing new except for being widely trumpeted by the press.

    I assure you the bees are doing fine.

    Kindest Regards.

  2. John Sayers June 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    I had a chat with a beekeeper in my area when I heard that Europe had banned a particular insecticide range called Neonicotinoids. Apparently Canadians use these insecticides without any problems to their bees.

    The beekeeper said his problem was Monsanto’s Roundup. Just recently a farmer had sprayed a paddock where his bee were gathering pollen, he managed to get his bees away but reckoned he lost a couple of thousand. The problem is the bees take the pollen of sprayed plants back to the hive and feed it to the larvae which kills them.

    Apparently Russia (Putin) has threatened the US with war if the US doesn’t control Monsanto and it’s products as they are killing bees worldwide.

  3. Robert June 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    I live on the fringe of an extensive forest region. Insects change their behaviour constantly, as well as their numbers. Honey became so scarce in the last drought it was called liquid gold, there was Peak Honey scare in some quarters. Then honey wasn’t scarce at all.

    Every few years, cicadas are deafening and their corpses are everywhere. Then they tone it right down for several years. Mosquitoes come and go in numbers regardless of what’s happening rain-wise, but in the most severe drought conditions they developed the habit of emerging in the day and disappearing at night. Walking from my weekend job through the forest in the arvo I could not stand still for mozzies. It was like the Arctic summer one hears about. During the sharp, short drought of last spring/summer they started to get into this pattern, but only a bit. I notice that last drought brought back the monolepta beetle after years of absence. Bad buggers, native or not. They’re still hanging about.

    But let’s have bee care, bee conservation, and bee research. If anyone threatens to publish something ground-breaking, however, let’s send ’em back into the forest and paddocks till the urge passes. Exposure to nature’s contradictions and puzzles over decades might actually form some scientists. That would be handy!

  4. cementafriend June 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    I had three registered bees hives on an acreage property close to a large city. Disease was the problem which knocked out the three and I had to start again with disease free Queen bees. I had to report the disease to the Dept of Ag who came and took one hive away and fumigated the other two. My understanding is that disease has been a big problem in USA and that they had to import disease free Queen Bees from Australia. Disease is also a problem in Europe.
    A similar situation has occurred in Europe with trees – note the Dutch Elm tree disease which wiped out large tracks of Forest in Holland, Germany and France. The “Greens” blamed acid rain on the forest destruction but that was proved wrong and forest have shown remarkable recovery.
    Nature is fickle and complex. There is a continual battle between animals, plants, insects, bacteria, fungi and viruses. Man is part of the battle. Man has been winning over the last few hundred years but it was not always so (plagues which wiped out about one third of the population) and it may not be so in the future.

  5. John Sayers June 11, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    I found this story from 2010 as I remember someone using native bees in our area>

    THERE is a renewed force of insect pollinators in our local macadamia orchards.

    And you will be happy to know the native troops are winning a war against a difficult pest.

    Australian native bees are the secret.

    Alstonville High School agriculture and science teacher Steve Maginnity learnt about native bees when he went to a beekeeping course two years ago.

    Since then he has fallen in love with the tiny four-winged wonders.

    “They are amazing creatures and their importance is increasing every day,” Mr Maginnity said.

    There are more than 1500 species of native bees, none of which is aggressive. Only 14 species live in colonies.

    The bees, unlike the European bee, are less susceptible to hive destruction by the small hive beetle, which has been threatening bee populations since its introduction into Australia in about 2000.

    According to Mr Maginnity, native bees fight off the beetle by filling their mouths with wax which they then dab on to the backs of thepredator. The effect is the beetle becomes mummified and dies.

    The bees are capable of pollinating many tropical and subtropical plants including macadamias, blueberries, rockmelons, watermelons and strawberries.

    As feral colonies of European bees decline, due to the beetle, farmers are turning more and more to the native bee for pollination.

    Australian Macadamia Society chief executive Jolyon Burnett said many macadamia growers were enthusiastic about the potential ofnative bees.

    “As we try to move to becoming more sustainable we are encouraging native insects in the orchard,” Mr Burnett said.

    Mr Maginnity said using native bees in macadamia farms could increase kernel size by up to 10 per cent.

    Unfortunately, a colony of native bees produces only one to one-and-a-half litres of honey each year, compared with European bees which produce about 50 to 70 litres.

    However, the honey has a eucalyptus flavour and is considered a delicacy.

  6. Larry Fields June 12, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    A couple of years ago, I read about a California researcher who stumbled across another Colony Collapse Disorder candidate. He had put a dead CCD victim in a small jar. When he returned the next morning, he saw a previously unknown species of tiny parasitic wasps emerging from the carcass.

  7. Ian Thomson June 12, 2013 at 5:22 am #

    This is some of the research
    As with aspartame and GM corn, it takes a little longer than a quick 6 month trial, but when it hits it is a wipe out.

  8. Debbie June 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Here is some info re Monsanto and the nicotenides.
    Not sure how much is genuine science and how much is scaremongering?????

  9. John Sayers June 12, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    Yes Deb, the story of the urban beehives was a story on TV I saw.

    The Russian confrontation with the US over Monsanto was very serious as it came about when Putin confronted John Kerry, US Secretary of State over Monsanto’s world wide influence. He was saying reign in Monsanto which for the US government is hard to do as so many Monsanto executives hold major positions in the US government and The White House.

  10. cementafriend June 12, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    Ian Thompson your link is much like some articles on “Climate”. Blame something particularly if put out by rich greedy companies. The “Greens” love to blame so everyone goes back to being a caveman but themselves who will be the heroes.
    This is from a wiki post “The IAPV was discovered in 2004, and belongs to the Dicistroviridae. It causes paralysis in bees which then die outside the hive. It can be transmitted by the mite Varroa destructor. These mites, however, were found in only half of the CCD colonies.[19]

    The virus was also found in samples of Australian honey bees. Australian honey bees have been imported into the U.S. since 2004,[18] and until recently, it was thought possible that this is how the virus originally reached North America. Recent findings, however, reveal the virus has been present in American bees since 2002.”
    I can not remember what disease my bees had -I think it was a virus but not the same as that in USA or Europe probably local. Where I was living was mainly native bush and remnants of orchards that were not well looked after. We had about twenty citrus tees and assorted other fruit trees and never sprayed.

    Here is the whole wiki post You can not believe everything on wiki. You will know that there were ‘green” editors such as William Connolly who removed any scientific fact he did not like and put in his own slant. He was supposedly banned but still pops up.
    I put up a post on wiki (unrelated to environment) and had to battle to keep it to historical and correct technical facts by referring to actual original references. In the end I had to give up correcting opinions by individuals who did not understand the technology.

  11. handjive June 14, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    13 June 2013:
    Harsh winter hits honey bees: Number of colonies who did not survive up by a third

  12. kuhnkat June 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    John Sayers,

    There has been direct testing with neonicotinoids with bees. Unless the farmer is overspraying there should not be a problem. This is stupid as roundup and GMO’s are designed to reduce the need for spraying!!! Spraying where bees are active is going to leave too much of the chemicals.

    Still, I am amazed that beekeepers are not on farmers backs to NOT spray when they have their hives in the area. Recently there was a loss of a large number of hives in Florida. There were the usual accusations about the cause. Turned out the county was using both spray trucks and aerial spraying of insecticides to keep down mosquitoes. Seems the farmers were unaware that BOTH insecticides are TOXIC to bees and had not taken any precautions. Apparently the county had also not done anything special even though they must have known there are a number of commercial bee keepers in the area!!!

    The county DID have all this information plus a spraying schedule on their website I easily found!!! I wonder how many of the problems with bees are due to people just NOT paying attention. Reading the posts by various people and scientists from Canada it appears they are all VERY aware of the various dangers and are actively trying to mitigate with weather, pesticides and the other issues.

    The interesting facts on CCD include that it was first noted in the 1800’s. Don’t think Monsanto and pesticides were around!!! Their best argument is that the pesticides CONTRIBUTE TO CCD!!

  13. kuhnkat June 28, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Ian Thomson,

    this article is unbelievable. CCD has only been an issue since about 2006. Imidacloprin has been in use since 1990. They state it only took low levels of the pesticide to cause the CCD like death. Lower than is what is typically seen in the field!!!

    The facts do not compute. Why would it not cause any significant harm for 15 years and then at LOWER CONCENTRATIONS than what is typical?!?!?! This study needs to be redone with better controls to find out what is really happening!!! Yes the neonicotinoid may be a contributor, BUT, something else must also be important!!!

    How many times can scientists get bias confirmation and not follow through!!!

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