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Bee colony collapse disorder

The domesticated bee represents around 80% of animal pollinators that are responsible for robust harvests of around 90 agricultural crops. This represents a third of the world’s food production. With our increasing dependence on food sources that require animal pollination, specifically bee pollination, many are alarmed that loses beekeepers have sustained due to the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) may soon affect global food production.

Crops that require animal pollination include high value crops such as apples, coffee beans and almonds, blueberries and melon. Although the world’s staple food like rice, wheat and corn do not rely on animal pollination, the changing diets of people is expected to boost the demand for fruits and vegetables that rely in part or wholly on bee pollination.

In the past five decades, the production of pollination dependent crops have grown, on average, five times, while the growth in production of crops overall has grown by around half this rate - merely tripling within the same period. Compare this to the growth in managed bee colonies. In the US, this figure is believed to stand at 83%, while in Europe, the figure is lower at 50%.

Apart from beekeepers struggling with competition from cheaper honey imports, there is also a newly observed phenomenon that has been contributing to huge loses. In 2006, “Colony Collapse Disorder” was first discovered. Massive deaths of up to 90% of the bee population in managed colonies were reported in the worst hit colonies. CCD has been observed predominantly in the US and Europe, although not limited to these countries. Beekeepers in Asia, Middle East and South America have also reported similar incidences.

Scientists and researches are still baffled by the exact cause of CCD. Many now agree that it is not a single cause, but a combination of several factors that causes widespread deaths of entire bee colonies.

One promising study that looked into the possible causes of CCD proposes that it could be the result when a normally harmless pathogen called the Invertebrate Iridiscent Virus (IIV) found in majority of healthy bees come into contact with a fungus called Nosema ceranae. But more research is needed to reach a definitive conclusion, and more importantly, a solution to CCD.

While food production is currently unaffected by the slow growth in bee colonies compared to the rapid demand for pollination dependent crops, should the massive losses caused by CCD be left unabated, there could be a significant effect in the agricultural food production of affected crops.

by S. C.
04 february 2011, World News > Europe