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National Geographic: The Plight of the Honeybee

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A beekeeper pulls a section of honeycomb from a hive. Photograph by Gianluca Colla, National Geographic.

Billions of dollars — and a way of life—ride on saving pollinators

Jennifer S. Holland
National Geographic News
Published May 10, 2013

Excerpts:

Bees are back in the news this spring, if not back in fields pollinating this summer’s crops. The European Union (EU) has announced that it will ban, for two years, the use of neonicotinoids, the much-maligned pesticide group often fingered in honeybee declines. The U.S. hasn’t followed suit, though this year a group of beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups sued the EPA for not doing enough to protect bees from the pesticide onslaught.

Barrage of Stressors

So in addition to a changing climate and bizarre local weather systems, bees are threatened by chemical exposure in untested and unregulated combinations, disappearing foraging habitat with increasing monoculture that requires trucking bees from place to place, and fungal and viral intruders, plus the dreaded Varroa mite.

Meanwhile, nature is not sitting still. The diseases that are taking out immune-suppressed bees are quick to evolve resistance to farmers’ attempts to protect their bees. “Based on our management surveys last year, not one commercial product against Varroa worked consistently,” says van Engelsdorp, citing numerous examples.

With the barrage of stressors bees face, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re no longer as resilient as they once were. And honeybees, vanEngelsdorp points out, are among the most robust pollinators. The native insects, such as bumblebees, stingless bees, and flies, may be in worse shape, though their plights—and role in the ecosystem—are far less well known.

Read the complete article here.