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A bee-wildering situation

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By Dr. Joan Bradshaw

Extension Office

For the past several years, scientists have agonized over the future of bees and although research has shed much light on the bee decline dilemma, bee keepers continue to report colonies are struggling to survive.

The current crisis arose during the fall of 2006 as beekeepers around the country reported massive losses.

Data indicate more than a third of hives on average have experienced decline as a result of bees flying away and simply not coming back.

Beekeepers would find bee boxes empty of adult bees except for a live queen.

There was no evidence of bee corpses to tell the tale and losses from hives were rapid and unprecedented. Five years after the original observation of the disappearance of bees from a colony, this phenomenon has become known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) and evidence still exists that bee colonies continue struggling to

survive.

The 2012-13 research data indicate an average loss of 45.1 percent of hives across all U.S.

Some may ask, “why keep worrying over the fate of a bunch of pesky stinging insects?” You may not have given it a lot of thought, but bees play a very crucial role as nature’s pollinators. Approximately a third of our foods (100 key crops) rely on insect pollinators. Just a few affected crops are nuts, all the favorite summer fruits (i.e. blueberries and strawberries), and alfalfa (which cows eat). In total, bees contribute more than $15 billion to U.S. crop production.

Scientists, beekeepers, government officials and various industries are investigating various avenues of CCD. These groups have initiated a number of investigations into the possible causes of CCD. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture joined forces to study and address the problem, but half a dozen years later the colony collapse mystery remains unsolved.

Recent studies reveal higher levels of pathogens in the guts of bees from collapsed colonies versus healthy ones.

Viral infections would seem to be a likely culprit, but according to bee experts, CCD isn’t a case of one cause, but it appears bees are struggling with comprised immune systems, which makes them susceptible to diseases.

For more information on bees, contact Citrus County Extension at 352-527-5700.

 

Dr. Joan Bradshaw is director of UF/IFAS Citrus County Extension.