Friday, September 7, 2007

Bee Mystery: Scientists Get a Clue

Have you heard the buzz about bees? They're disappearing! All over the country, honeybees have been mysteriously vanishing from their hives.

Beekeepers first noticed the problem in 2006: they'd open a hive, and the worker bees would be gone! A hive could go from healthy to empty in just 2 weeks. No one knew what was causing the problem, but experts named it Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

So far, CCD hasn't made it to Utah. But without knowing how it's caused or spread, we can't be sure it won't get here. If it did come to Utah, bee keepers could lose up to 90% of their hives. That's a problem for more than just people who love honey; bees play an important role in producing much of the food we eat.

"People just don't realize how important pollination is," says Debbie Amundsen, a staff member at UMNH and an amateur beekeeper. According to the US Department of Agriculture, "about one mouthful in three in the diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination." That includes almost 100 crops, such as almonds, peaches, and cucumbers. In Utah, bees also pollinate the alfalfa that is used to feed livestock.

The good news is, a team of scientists has just discovered an important clue to what causes CCD. They noticed that a new virus (first seen in Israel in 2004 ) is usually present in hives that suffer CCD. They don't think the virus is causing the collapse by itself, but teams up with other stresses to bring the bees down. "This research gives us a very good lead to follow," said Jeffery S. Pettis, one of the scientists working on the problem. Let's hope they solve this mystery before it's too late!

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Danny Kramer said...

Wow, I had no idea! But don't birds play a big role in pollination too?

Without bees I wouldn't feel guilty about not carrying around an Epi-Pen all the time!