Thursday, February 6, 2014

More bad news for bees

In Discovery News and PhysOrg on colony collapse disorder, I mentioned that it would have been helpful to have shown my students the Discovery News video I embedded there.  Since then, I've done so, including to my environmental science class this semester.  My students found it very interesting and helpful.

This weekend, I found two more articles on the plight of honeybees that made their way into Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (NASA and Super Bowl).  The first, from ABC News via Yahoo! News, serves as a reminder that "The Walking Dead" returns this coming Sunday: 'Zombie' Bees Surface in the Northeast by BEN GITTLESON.
Mutant "zombie bees" that act like the ghoulish creatures of horror films have surfaced in the Northeast after first appearing on the West Coast, a bee expert told ABC News on Wednesday.

An amateur beekeeper in Burlington, Vt., last summer found honeybees infested with parasites that cause the insects to act erratically and eventually kill them. It was the first spotting of zombie bees east of South Dakota, according to John Hafernik, a professor of biology at San Francisco State University whose team in October verified the infestation.

"They fly around in a disoriented way, get attracted to light, and then fall down and wander around in a way that's sort of reminiscent of zombies in the movies," Hafernik said. "Sometimes we've taken to calling [it], when they leave their hives, 'the flight of the living dead.'"
Next, Sara LaJeunesse of Penn State reports that Common crop pesticides kill honeybee larvae in the hive.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Four pesticides commonly used on crops to kill insects and fungi also kill honeybee larvae within their hives, according to Penn State and University of Florida researchers. The team also found that N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) -- an inert, or inactive, chemical commonly used as a pesticide additive -- is highly toxic to honeybee larvae.

"We found that four of the pesticides most commonly found in beehives kill bee larvae," said Jim Frazier, professor of entomology, Penn State. "We also found that the negative effects of these pesticides are sometimes greater when the pesticides occur in combinations within the hive. Since pesticide safety is judged almost entirely on adult honeybee sensitivity to individual pesticides and also does not consider mixtures of pesticides, the risk assessment process that the Environmental Protection Agency uses should be changed."

According to Frazier, the team's previous research demonstrated that forager bees bring back to the hive an average of six different pesticides on the pollen they collect. Nurse bees use this pollen to make beebread, which they then feed to honeybee larvae.
It's not just the bees that are in trouble.  University of Georgia issued a press release last week trumpeting UGA experts available to comment on monarch butterfly decline.
Athens, Ga. - A new report from the World Wildlife Fund has documented the drop in monarch butterfly numbers. The University of Georgia has experts on monarch butterflies available to comment on the trend:
One of the concepts I teach my students is that biodiversity is important because it allows for resilience.  In this case, the idea is that if one pollinator disappears, another might be available to take its place.  That won't work if the potential replacement is diminishing, too.*

*Yes, I know that butterflies and bees don't pollinate the same flowers, but the overall concept holds true just the same.

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