For centuries humans have benefited beyond imagination from the busy work of pollinating honeybees. One in every three bites of food we eat in North America and throughout much of the world is a direct result of bees having traveled from flower to flower, pollinating plants so that we can have fruits, vegetables and nuts. Without them, modern agriculture as we know it would be doomed.
That’s why the mysterious wholesale disappearance of billions of honeybees across the continent raised alarm bells last fall when first noticed (see “Bee-fuddling,” March 8, 2007).
A year later, most of the nation’s beekeepers have survived the initial wave of what’s been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), but as fall approaches, bee researchers are holding their breath and hoping that signs of the mysterious disorder will be less severe this time around.
“This summer the disease seemed to go into remission,” says University of Montana entomologist Jerry Bromenshenk, one of the nation’s top bee scientists and part of a national working group that’s trying to find the cause and a cure for CCD.
“Most of those beekeepers that had problems before also said they had a small percentage of colonies that seemed to be dogging along and not doing too well. It was about this time last year this started to manifest itself.”
So far, other than having a few advanced theories, scientists aren’t much closer to finding the cause, or the cure, than they were a year ago.
“There are still a lot of questions,” Bromenshenk says. “It remains to see how widespread this is.”
Bromenshenk says Montana’s 250 or so beekeepers seemed to have survived the first wave of the disease this summer, but as exhausted and stressed bees either head into winter dormancy or get loaded onto trucks and transported to California’s almond fields for more work, the next few months could provide critical clues about the future of the bees, and, potentially, our food supply.
“At that point of time, most [Montana beekeepers] said they were doing fairly well compared to last year,” says Bromenshenk. “We’ll cross our fingers.”