Friday, January 20, 2017
They called it Colony Collapse Disorder. What would happen is most of the worker bees of a hive would just disappear; die or wander off, and the entire hive would die.
This was never a new phenomenon, but about ten years ago there was a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of western honey bee colonies in North America and to a lesser degree in western Europe. Up to a third. We even talked about it in Living Green.
Various causes were suggested; pollution, global warming, pesticides, loss of habitat, but the real fear was the impact CCD would have on agriculture. Large numbers of crops rely on bee colonies for pollination. There is even an entire industry devoted to raising bee colonies for this purpose.
And it was this industry that came to the bees' rescue.
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The U.S. bee population hit a low point in 2006 with 2.5 million colonies, but beekeepers saw the problem and have been working to reverse it. By 2015, that number was up to 2.66 million, a two-decade high.
Bee populations have also been going up in other parts of the world.
Of course, those are commercial bees. Wild bees - whether they're honeybees or one of our 4,000 other native bee species - face different difficulties. If those species suffer die-offs, there's nobody around to breed new queens and help them recover.
Recent research has shown that the use of certain insecticides called neonicotinoids has been linked to declines in wild bee populations. But assessing the true magnitude of the effect is difficult, because it's a lot harder to survey wild bee populations than domesticated ones.
But by and large, our domesticated honey producers appear to be doing just fine.