‘More Than Honey’ Film Screening 9th Dec 2013

Fifty years ago, Einstein identified the symbiotic relationship binding bees to mankind: “If bees were to disappear from the globe,” he predicted, “mankind would only have four years left to live.”

More Than Honey Poster 001

Over the past 15 years, numerous colonies of bees have been decimated throughout the world, but the causes of this disaster remain unknown. Depending on the world region, 50% to 90% of all local bees have disappeared, and this epidemic is still spreading from beehive to beehive – all over the planet. Everywhere, the same scenario is repeated: billions of bees leave their hives, never to return. No bodies are found in the immediate surroundings, and no visible predators can be located.

In the US, the latest estimates suggest that a total of 1.5 million (out of 2.4 million total beehives) have disappeared across 27 states. In Germany, according to the national beekeepers association, one fourth of all colonies have been destroyed, with losses reaching up to 80% on some farms. The same phenomenon has been observed in Switzerland, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Poland and England, where this syndrome has been nicknamed “the Mary Celeste Phenomenon”, after a ship whose crew vanished in 1872.

Scientists have found a name for the phenomenon that matches its scale, “colony collapse disorder,” and they have good reason to be worried: 80% of plant species require bees to be pollinated. Without bees, there is no pollinization, and fruits and vegetables could disappear from the face of the Earth. Apis mellifera (the honey bee), which appeared on Earth 60 million years before man and is as indispensable to the economy as it is to man’s survival.

Should we blame pesticides or even medication used to combat them? Maybe look at parasites such as varroa mites? New viruses? Travelling stress? The multiplication of electromagnetic waves disturbing the magnetite nanoparticles found in the bees’ abdomen? So far, it looks like a combination of all these agents has been responsible for the weakening of the bees’ immune defenses.

1 Comment

  1. The impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees (honey and others) is under great scrutiny. Defra and the pesticide producers – Bayer, Syngenta and others – contiinue to claim the science showing a link is flawed or inconclusive.

    New research from Royal Holloway University published 7 October, adds weight to the argument that neonics change bees’ behaviour and affects the viability of colonies.

    See http://www.rhul.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/newsarticles/stressakeyfactorincausingbeecoloniestofail.aspx

    Stress a key factor in causing bee colonies to fail

    Extended periods of stress can cause bee colony failures, according to new research published today in the journal Ecology Letters.

    Scientists from Royal Holloway have found that when bees are exposed to low levels of neonicotinoid pesticides – which do not directly kill bees – their behaviour changes and they stop working properly for their colonies. The results showed that exposure to pesticides at levels bees encounter in the field, has subtle impacts on individual bees, and can eventually make colonies fail.

    This discovery provides an important breakthrough in identifying the reasons for the recent global decline of bees, a trend that has baffled many experts worldwide.

    “One in three mouthfuls of our food depend on bee pollination,” said lead author, Dr John Bryden from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway. “By understanding the complex way in which colonies fail and die, we’ve made a crucial step in being able to link bee declines to pesticides and other factors, such as habitat loss and disease which can all contribute to colony failure.”

    “Exposing bees to pesticides is a bit like adding more and more weight on someone’s shoulders. A person can keep walking normally under a bit of weight, but when it gets too much – they collapse. Similarly, bee colonies can keep growing when bees aren’t too stressed, but if stress levels get too high the colony will eventually fail,” added Dr Bryden.

    “Our research provides important insights to the biology of pollinators,” said co-author Professor Vincent Jansen. “It is intriguing that the way in which bees work together is the key to their success, but could also contribute to their decline and colony failure.”

    The research was funded as part of the £10 million ‘Insect Pollinators Initiative,’ set-up to understand the causes of pollinator declines and safeguard future pollination services.

    “Pesticides can have a detrimental effect on bees at levels used in the field,” said co-author Dr Nigel Raine. “Our research will provide important evidence for policymakers. The way we test pesticides, the way we assess their impact on bees, and the way we manage pesticides can all be improved.”

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