Colony Collapse Disorder: Background information when reading The Beekeeper's Lament

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The Beekeeper's Lament

How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America

by Hannah Nordhaus

The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus
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    May 2011, 288 pages

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Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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Beyond the Book:
Colony Collapse Disorder

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honey bee According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon in which bees mysteriously disappear from their hives. "The main symptom of CCD is simply no or a low number of adult honey bees present but with a live queen and no dead honey bees in the hive. Often there is still honey in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present."

Though "scientific literature has several mentions of honey bee disappearances - in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s," specific cases of CCD began to occur in American apiaries in October 2006, and beekeepers across the country were confounded when thousands of honeybees began to disappear, leaving behind empty, healthy hives. Since then, the occurrence of CCD has continued to increase, with a peak of 36% of American beekeepers reporting cases of the disorder in 2008, and "some beekeepers began reporting losses of 30-90% of their hives."

Scientists are working to determine the cause of CCD, and there has been speculation about a range of possible causes: honey bee malnutrition due to "apiary overcrowding," varroa mites (a blood-sucking parasite that weakens the honey bees' immune systems), gut microbes called Nosema, invasive diseases, pesticides, stress (which "compromises the immune system of bees... and may disrupt their social system, making colonies more susceptible to disease"), genetically modified crops that have insufficient nutritional value, pollen scarcity, cell phone radiation, pollution, and other harmful effects. Current speculation suggests that the decline of honeybees (as well as other insect pollinators, such as butterflies) is likely due to a combination of multiple environmental stressors.

CCD is not only a threat to our supply of honey, but it is foremost a problem for food production. Many of American crops depend on honey bees for pollination, and "about one mouthful in three in the diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination." Almonds, apples, oranges, blueberries, and many other kinds of plants depend on honeybees in order to come to fruition. The subtitle to The Beekeeper's Lament does not exaggerate when it claims that the book is about "one man and half a billion honey bees" that help to feed the country.

In 2009, reports of CCD decreased slightly to 29%, leaving beekeepers and farmers hopeful that the disorder will continue to decline. Scientists are still, however, unable to determine the root cause of the disorder. You don't have to be a beekeeper to help combat CCD; according to the US Department of Agriculture, the "best action you can take to benefit honey bees is to not use pesticides indiscriminately, especially not to use pesticides at mid-day when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar. In addition, you can plant and encourage the planting of good nectar sources such as red clover, foxglove, bee balm, and joe-pye weed."

To see pictures of beekeeper John Miller at work, you can visit his website at www.millerhoneyfarms.com. Or for a clip of the PBS special entitled "Silence of the Bees," click the video below.

This article is from the July 13, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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