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Bee Colony Collapse

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Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the term used to describe the relatively recent phenomenon of massive die offs of honey bees worldwide. Honey bees are themselves native to Africa and were first brought to and bred in Europe. When settlers came to the New World, they brought honey bees with them. Native Americans were said to call the honey bee white man's fly as they often preceded the settlers' presence.

Collapse in honey bee populations has been extensively debated within the agricultural and scientific community. Many scientists question the effect of new systemic pesticides, and GMO plants that produce their own pesticides, and especially the synergistic effects these chemicals may have on pollinators. After all, they are designed to kill and repel insects. Others argue that disease or parasites, loss of genetic biodiversity through breeding, poor diet and stress from being overworked, overuse of antibiotics, side effects from other medicines and chemicals to fight bacterial or fungal issues, generally poor beekeeping, electro-magnetic frequencies, or something yet unknown may be the cause. Even the social structure of the hive, its method of communication, and care for its young could play a role.

One of the most frustrating things about CCD is that most of the bees are never found.  The bees simply die before returning to the hive and this makes it very difficult to find and study those affected. If the queen is still alive she is usually found in the hive with just a handful of attendants. (This is different than swarming, a normal behavior wherein the queen leaves with about half of the hive (≈ 25,000 bees) to start a new colony, and the remaining younger bees breed a new queen.)

Some concerned beekeepers and scientists have begun looking at certain genetic strains of bees in Australia (one of the only countries in the world not experiencing CCD), as well as Africanized (aka killer bees) honey bees that were bred in Sao Palo, Brazil. The Africanized bees escaped and have been migrating up the through South and Central America, and have begun colonizing much of the southern US. They are extremely aggressive and have killed at least 13 people due to their aggressive nature, but new evidence shows they and the Australian bees have promise for good honey production and resistance to disease, mites, and even CCD.

With implications on the future global food supply, as well as economic stability for farmers and beekeepers, understanding CCD can help ensure food and economic security in a world of increasing social, environmental and economic insecurity. Furthermore, the problems facing honey bees are facing other pollinators, especially native bees. One thing is certain: with a third of our food at risk, we haven't a moment to lose in taking action to support pollinators.

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