Colony Collapse Disorder: Why the Bees are Dying

All living organisms have self-preservation defense mechanisms to protect themselves from harm. Whether an organism survives an attack or contamination depends on its ability to contain or destroy an outbreak or infection.

According to the Gaia principle, all “living and nonliving parts of the Earth are viewed as a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.” In essence the Gaia hypothesis states that the Earth is alive, implying that it also has a self-defense mechanism to protect itself from harm. If we take this into consideration, then it may shed some light onto the reasons as to why the honeybees are dying across the globe, and what we can do about it.

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In the winter of 2006, a strange phenomenon fell upon honeybee hives” across the United States. “Without a trace, millions of bees vanished from their hives…The epidemic set researchers scrambling to discover why honeybees were dying in record numbers.”

Four main categories stand in the foreground of the disappearing honeybee issue: EMF radiation; GM crops; diseases and pests; and artificial incursions of modern bee-keeping on overall hive ecology.” Upon examining the possible causes of this epidemic, investigations have revealed that “‘Natural’ beehives appear less affected” by this now global pandemic dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

There’s still no concrete evidence” as to why the bees are dying, but almost everyone agrees that it is because of us; by what we, humans, are doing. It is widely accepted that the epidemic is either due to our mass distribution of electromagnetic technology, our unconfined genetic experimentations, our chemical contamination of the environment, or our physical treatment of the honeybees that is causing them to die. I would like to add one more possibility to this list, and that is the increased global radiation that has been measured in many western countries, due to our use of Depleted Uranium munitions for the last two decades.

A detailed survey conducted by Bee Alert Technology (pdf) indicates that disappearances have been the main cause of CCD. Results from June 2007 indicate that 43% of beekeepers surveyed in North America believe that the cause of their bee colonies collapsing has been disappearing bees, compared to 15% cause by Mites and 3% by pesticides. ‘Disappearing’ is the perfect term to describe what is happening, because we, as of this moment, do not know why the bees are not returning to their colonies. The data indicates that the severer the colony loss, the better the correlation with disappearances.

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How serious is the situation? There have been reports that up to 80% of the bees in certain regions of Europe and North America have perished. Albert Einstein is said to have stated: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man,” which clearly sums up the current predicament in no uncertain terms.

There is a positive side to the story however; the death of the bees is an early warning signal. Insects are in general at the bottom of the food chain, therefore we, being at the top of the food chain, will usually not be immediately affected by mass extinction of a certain insect species. Bees however are different, they are not only at the bottom of the food chain. We use them as pollinators in our production of fruits and vegetables, and we also consume their labor of love, being honey, directly. This means that bees hold the distinction of being involved in all levels of human consumption. It is because we are so heavily invested in honeybee labor to produce our food that we have been lucky enough to become aware of this epidemic early.

The reasons for why the bees are dying are likely a combination of what has been listed above. Knowing this, we remain bewildered as to why the bees are flying off en masse and not returning to the only thing that they know, which is a colonial life.

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The Gaia principle provides some answers. Bees are the most efficient delivery system known on this planet. If they are infected with a virus, carriers of a pathogen, then there is a serious risk of contamination. If the Gaia principle is taken at face value, then the Earth will be aware of this infection and will do whatever is necessary to contain it. This includes committing euthanasia on one of its species (living parts) by signaling the bee colonies to eliminate themselves from the equation.

The Gaia hypothesis is still speculation, but it does help us to understand the interconnectiveness of life on Earth. Since we, our lifestyle, is the most likely culprit of this pandemic, then we would be wise to modify our behavior before the Earth decides that the only way to prevent this infection from spreading is to eliminate the source and not the delivery mechanism.

What is required are large-scale scientific investigations as to the cause of CCD and the consequences of the destruction of the ecosystem through our technology, scientific experimentations, and environmental contamination. We are slowly moving in the right direction with people beginning to realize the benefits of consuming organic food, the use of Genetically Modified seeds being suspended in France , and research into the dangers of EM radiation becoming more widely available, but we must begin to rapidly implement changes. We are approaching the tipping point with this crisis and should make it a global priority.

Hopefully dealing appropriately with the CCD epidemic will usher in a time where we will value the health of the Earth above all else and learn to keep this planet from harm by reducing our ecological footprint.

Posted in | | | | Submitted by chycho on Wed, 2007-12-26 23:26.
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Thursday, 20 May, 1999 - "By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Pollen from one of the most successful genetically modified (GM) crops in the US can kill the larvae of monarch butterflies, scientists say.

Their study, published in the journal Nature, shows how the new GM technology might have unwanted consequences for biodiversity.

Nearly half of the GM pollen-fed caterpillars died
The Cornell University researchers say their results "have potentially profound implications for the conservation of monarch butterflies" and believe more research on the environmental risks of biotechnology in agriculture is essential.

Their experiments looked at Bt-corn which has been modified to incorporate a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

This makes the plant tissue toxic to the European corn borer, a significant pest that hides in the stalks of the plant, making it difficult to control with chemical sprays.

Although the Bt-corn plant itself is harmless to humans and other creatures such as ladybirds and bees, the researchers found pollen from the GM crop could have a lethal effect on the larvae of monarch butterflies if it lands on the plant on which they feed - milkweed.

This is commonly found around cornfields and is the exclusive food of monarch caterpillars.

Dead caterpillars

In the laboratory, Monarch caterpillars fed on milkweed leaves dusted with Bt-corn pollen ate less, grew more slowly and suffered a higher mortality rate than those fed on leaves with normal pollen, or with no pollen at all.

Nearly half of the GM pollen-fed caterpillars died, while all the rest survived the study.

The crop is harmless to non-target insects
The scientists say the GM pollen enters the caterpillar's gut, where it binds to specific sites. The gut wall then changes from a protective layer to an open sieve, allowing pathogens normally contained in the gut and then excreted to enter the insect's body.

Last year more than seven million acres of Bt-corn were planted in the US. Before its development, borers used to cause an average annual loss of $1.2bn.

The technology offers significant potential for reducing pesticide use and increasing yields. Any negative effects therefore need to be balanced against these benefits, says Assistant Professor of Entomology John Losey, the lead researcher on the Nature paper.

"We need to assess the risks from this Bt pollen and then balance those with the proven benefits and then decide, objectively, what is better for the environment," he told the BBC.

"We want to look at the plants that are common around cornfields and the different butterflies whose caterpillars would feed on those plants. By putting those together, we can start to get a sense of what the total impact of this pollen might be."

Novartis Seeds were the first biotechnology company to sell Bt-corn and their products are now grown commercially in the US, Canada, Argentina and Spain.

"This study does not give any basis for a change in our marketing of Bt-corn," their spokesperson Sheena Bethell told BBC News Online.

"Bt-corn has been extensively studied and we already have several years of growing experience in the US - one lab experiment does not change that. We follow and exceed all the requirements made by regulatory authorities which are very rigorous.

"Even if there are unwanted effects on the Monarch butterfly, you still have to put that into the context of comparison with other forms of control."

However, English Nature, the UK Government's wildlife advisor is using the publication of the report to renew its call for a delay in the commercial planting of insect-resistant crops in Britain.

"This new research confirms the views put forward by English Nature last year that there are serious concerns about the commercial introduction of GM crops before research has been done on their potential effects on biodiversity," it says."

chycho | Thu, 2008-03-27 21:01

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