Thomas Gerber: Mysterious, Massive Death of Bees
London, UK - 19 February 2007, 20:50 GMT - Albert
Einstein made the statement "If the bee disappeared off the surface
of the globe, then man would only have four years left to live."
He was speaking in regard to the symbiotic relationship of all life on
the planet. All part of a huge interconnected ecosystem, each element
playing a role dependant on many other elements all working in concert
creating the symphony of life. Should any part of the global body suffer,
so does the whole body.
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex
global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive
action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine
of non-violence, ATCA addresses opportunities and threats arising from
climate chaos, radical poverty, organised crime & extremism, advanced
technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI, demographic skews, pandemics
and financial systems. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only
and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 100 countries: including
several from the House of Lords, House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress
& Senate, G10's Senior Government officials and over 1,500 CEOs from
financial institutions, scientific corporates and voluntary organisations
as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres of excellence worldwide.
Dear ATCA Colleagues; dear IntentBloggers
[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors
are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral.
ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and
We are grateful to Richard Thomas Gerber, based in Michigan, USA, for
his seminal submission to ATCA, "Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)
-- Mysterious, Massive Death of Bees in the US -- Are bees the Canary
in the mineshaft?"
Richard Thomas Gerber is CEO of Intelegen Inc, a "proof-of-concept"
company based in Michigan, USA, now celebrating it's eleventh year;
with a current focus on high quality video production, streaming and
interactive media development; system development, meta research and
predictive analytics derived from data mining the Internet. Richard
is also an informatics systems architect with 22 years experience working
in the Detroit metropolitan area in the US. He has serviced or acted
as an information technology consultant to over 200 clients from a broad
range of industries specializing in accounting and finance applications
and systems integration and custom development. He has worked for Moore
Stephens International and as a consultant for Daimler Chrysler, General
Motors and Ford Motor. He also currently hosts and maintains virtual
manufacturing environments for several companies with time critical
manufacturing operations and multiple physical plant and office locations
across the US. He writes:
Dear DK and Colleagues
Re: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) -- Mysterious, Massive Death of Bees
in the US -- Are bees the Canary in the mineshaft?
Albert Einstein made the statement "If the bee disappeared off
the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years left to
live." He was speaking in regard to the symbiotic relationship
of all life on the planet. All part of a huge interconnected ecosystem,
each element playing a role dependant on many other elements all working
in concert creating the symphony of life. Should any part of the global
body suffer, so does the whole body.
Many people would be surprised to know that 90% of the feral (wild)
bee population in the United States has died out. Recent studies in
the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have shown that bee diversity
is down 80 percent in the sites researched, and that "bee species
are declining or have become extinct in Britain." The studies also
revealed that the numbers of wildflowers that depend on pollination
have dropped by 70 percent. Which came first, the decline in wildflowers
or the decline in pollinators, has yet to be determined. If bees continue
to die off so would the crops they support and with that would ensue
major economic disruption and possibly famine.
In the US, bee keepers are experiencing unprecedented die offs of bees
some losing as much as 80% of their colonies. Commercial beekeepers
in 22 states have reported deaths of tens of thousands of honeybee colonies.
So far the cause remains unexplained and somewhat mysterious. It is
being called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and is causing agricultural
honeybees nationwide to abandon their hives and disappear and raising
worries about crops that need bees for pollination. It's a kind of mass
suicide in the bee world. "There have been cases where there have
been these die-offs of bees before, but we have never seen it to this
level," said Maryann Frazier, a Pennsylvania State University entomologist.
"One operation after another is collapsing."
Bees have done quite well for millions of years, in the last 60 years
that began to change. In recent years, beekeepers have been losing 25
percent of their hives each winter. Thirty years ago, the rate was 5
percent to 10 percent, said Keith Tignor, the state apiarist for Virginia.
The unusual phenomenon was first noticed by eastern beekeepers starting
last fall. Researchers, including some connected with the Penn State
University College of Agricultural Sciences, have identified some of
the possible contributors, but have not yet found a single cause. Initial
studies on bee colonies experiencing the die-offs have revealed a large
number of disease organisms, with most being "stress-related"
diseases but without any one agent as the culprit. Climate chaos and
extreme weather seem to be a major factor.
It is hard to tell if wild honey bee populations have been affected
by the CCD disorder because Varroa mites have "pretty much decimated
the wild honey bee population over the past years," said Maryann
Frazier of The Pennsylvania State University Department of Entomology.
"This has become a highly significant, yet poorly understood problem
that threatens the pollination industry and the production of commercial
honey in the United States... Because the number of managed honeybee
colonies is less than half of what it was 25 years ago, states such
as Pennsylvania can ill afford these heavy losses."
Dennis van Engelsdorp, acting state apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department
of Agriculture said "Every day, you hear of another operator, It's
just causing so much death so quickly that it's startling."
Lee Miller, director of the Beaver County extension office, said the
deaths appear to be stress-related, but that stress could come from
several sources. Dennis van Engelsdorp of the Pennsylvania Department
of Agriculture said that initial studies found a large number of disease
organisms present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit.
And while studies and surveys have found a few common management factors
among beekeepers with affected hives, no common environmental agents
or chemicals have been identified.
University of California Davis entomologist Eric Mussen specializes
in bees. He thinks the answer lies in last summer's lack of wild flowers,
nationwide. Janet Katz, a beekeeper in Chester, NJ, says the weather
is having a major impact, "The weather last season was not cooperative,"
she said. "Over the course of the season it was too wet, too dry,
too hot and too cold, all at the wrong times." Bees store honey
every autumn -- a hive needs 60 pounds to survive the winter -- but
with this year's warm weather, they ate a lot, and beekeepers had to
supplement with sugar syrup.
Florida apiarists say citrus growers are compounding the problem by
spraying pesticides to kill off a dangerous pest that menaces fruit
trees, wiping out bees at the same time. While a combination of problems
is putting the bee population in peril, it's the phenomenon of the animals
suddenly deserting their hives, never to return, that has observers
"There have been cases where there have been these die-offs of
bees before, but we have never seen it to this level," said Maryann
Frazier, a Pennsylvania State University entomologist. "One operation
after another is collapsing."
At stake is the work the honeybees do, pollinating more than USD 15
billion worth of US crops, including Pennsylvania's apple harvest, the
fourth-largest in the nation, worth USD 45 million, and New Jersey's
cranberries and blueberries.
While a few crops, such as corn and wheat, are pollinated by the wind,
bees help pollinate more than 90 commercially grown field crops, citrus
and other fruit crops, vegetables and nut crops. Without these insects,
crop yields would fall dramatically and some tangerines and pecans would
cease to exist. Agronomists estimate Americans owe one in three bites
of food to bees."
All of the following are dependant on bees, apples, pears, tangerines,
peaches, soybeans, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, cherries, blueberries,
raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, carrots, broccoli and avocados.
And do we realise bees pollinate almonds? California has the biggest
almond groves in the world, supplying 80 percent of the nuts on the
market; they currently have to import millions of bees to pollinate
There are several unusual things about the phenomena and one common
factor that cannot be attributed to be the direct cause but may be an
"aggravating other conditions" factor and that is temperature
- No single cause drought chemicals/pesticides, mites, bacteria, a fungus
or virus seems to be common to all the events or even indicated as a
cause in any single event. Extreme weather and temperature fluctuations
seem to play a major role stressing the bees and weakening their immune
- There are no bee bodies; they simply all disappear, all adult bees
are simply gone, sometimes leaving a queen and a few young hatched workers.
This is unheard of, since normally a bee colony will do almost anything
to protect its queen.
- The hive is left intact, with capped cells of honey and bee bread.
- Another unusual factor is that bees sensing a dying colony nearby
aren't going in right away and killing the other bees and robbing the
hive of honey, like they usually do for example when the bees have died
of parasites or disease.
- Researchers have also noted few signs of damage from wax moths and
small hive beetles taking advantage of dead colonies.
According to David Tarpy, a bee specialist at NC State, "Bees die
all the time, although this year seems to be worse than normal."
The difference now is that none of the "usual suspects" are
to blame, Tarpy said. "That's what makes it problematic."
Also, unlike when bees are killed by some other causes (disease, mites),
there are no dead bees littering the bottom of a hive. The bees are
simply gone, he said, or perhaps a queen and a few younger bees remain,
but the adults have disappeared.
Reports of the situation began to come in over the fall and winter,
but scientists don't yet have an answer. It might be a disease, a pest
or an environmental factor or even a combination of effects making bees
vulnerable to an existing problem. Now, the bees have sealed themselves
inside the hives to stay warm, and the keepers can't open the structures
until spring. Neither entomologists nor growers can say what will happen
when the 2007 growing season for most of the country's crops starts.
As a result, some people are really worried.
Diana Cox-Foster, a professor of entomology at Penn State University,
has been working on the problem for months now. She says the die-off
is unprecedented, and she's made some dramatic discoveries. For example,
the normally resilient bees she dissected showed traces of not one or
two diseases, but nearly every disease known to affect them over the
past century. They had all the diseases at once, a sign their immune
systems have been compromised. "The bees are immuno-compromised,
being stressed somehow," she said. Some could be related to the
severe weather swings we've seen over the past few years. But many questions
She and the other scientists working on the CSI-style case don't think
this is just a cyclical thing. It's uncommon, unusual, and frightening
to everyone associated with the often-overlooked industry. No one is
sure just how bad it will be when the hives are opened in late march.
Where does milk come from? "The bees pollinate the alfalfa, which
feeds the cows, which give the milk. Honeybees are one of the main links
in our world. They really need to be nurtured." Jerry Hayes of
the Florida Department of Agriculture worries the bee is the canary
in the mine shaft, "telling us something is happening that will
have ramifications for us down the road. "I think the bees are
so stressed, they are saying, 'I give up,'" said Hayes, Since the
mid-1980s, parasitic mites have been devastating the honey bee population
across the country, including the South-eastern US. In North Carolina,
the number of kept beehives in the state has dropped by 44 percent,
and about 95 percent of wild bees have been wiped out, according to
North Carolina State entomologist David Tarpy.
A series of hurricanes in 2004, including Katrina in 2005, destroyed
thousands of honey bee colonies, decimating the vital Gulf Coast bee
industry. Many of the pollinators for other parts of the country traditionally
came from these beekeepers. The economic impact of these storms, especially
Katrina is yet to be determined.
"Replacing the Gulf Coast bee colonies, although highly important,
is not enough. It is obvious that the huge losses suffered during the
past 16 years must be dealt with to provide security for our future
honey bee-dependent food supplies. It will take a well-defined series
of coordinated efforts by all components of the beekeeping industry
and the involvement of local, state and federal governmental entities
to solve this potentially disastrous situation," says John Roberts,
a beekeeper and President of Nature Technics Corporation.
There has been a sixty-year decline in pollinators. The honeybees and
native bees may live in far more harmony than cats and dogs, but the
modern world has not been in harmony with them. The last 60 years have
been rough on all pollinators. In the 1940s there were over five million
managed colonies of honeybees in the United States. Today there are
just over two million, and their numbers are declining, both in North
America and worldwide.
The entire world now faces a decline of native pollinators. Over 100
species of birds and more than 80 mammals that pollinate are considered
threatened or extinct by the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), a network that includes scientists,
experts, government agencies and non-governmental organizations from
around the world. Each country has its own tale to tell. In southern
India, nearly all of the native bees died in the 1990s when they became
infected with an imported virus. In Iraq, smoke from the burning oil
wells during the Gulf War decimated most of the country's bee colonies.
In summary plants and animals remote in the scale of nature are bound
together by a web of complex relations resulting from dependencies we
have yet to fully understand. Every creature seems to play a role even,
parasites serve a purpose. We are just beginning to understand the beneficial
symbiotic relationship between the human body and certain bacteria.
We are dependant on many other species and any failure of one part of
the ecosystem can create a domino effect causing disruption throughout
the entire chain of life. All plants and animals are vulnerable to climate
chaos which seem to be having a major impact. Whether or not we are
responsible for climate chaos is not as important an issue as to how
humanity will adapt. It could also be that our methods centred on mass
production and factory farming are in conflict with nature, as we can
see in the case of avian flu, we may be creating a world of pestilence
having forgotten that we are part of nature and there is a natural order,
balance and harmony that needs to be maintained in the dance of life.
Like any species in nature that gets out of hand, nature has a way to
keep it in check, and humankind may be the next species in line for
severe adjustment or even step-by-step eradication.
All the best
Richard Thomas Gerber
We look forward to your further thoughts, observations and views.
For and on behalf of DK Matai, Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global
challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action
to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence,
ATCA addresses opportunities and threats arising from climate chaos, radical
poverty, organised crime & extremism, advanced technologies -- bio, info,
nano, robo & AI, demographic skews, pandemics and financial systems. Present
membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished
members from over 100 countries: including several from the House of Lords,
House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress & Senate, G10's Senior Government
officials and over 1,500 CEOs from financial institutions, scientific corporates
and voluntary organisations as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres
of excellence worldwide.
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