Colony Collapse Disorder
North Dakota is among the top honey producing states in the nation. Those bees not only produce honey, but they also provide important ecological services by pollinating many of our crop and garden plants, not to mention most of our native plants.
Many of you will remember a large die-off of honeybees in areas of North America beginning in 2006. During 2007 and 2008 roughly one-third of the honeybees in the United States flew away from their hives and simply disappeared. Although the cause remains in question, the phenomenon was named colony collapse disorder.
As you would expect, scientists from around the country have been working diligently to find the cause. Finding that cause, however, has been difficult. Suspected causal factors include insecticides, bacteria, mites, fungi, viruses, nutrition, or a combination of factors.
Dr. May Berenbaum at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and her colleagues may have recently narrowed the search for the cause of colony collapse disorder.
They investigated genetic markers in bees sampled before the outbreak of colony collapse disorder in 2006 and compared them to bees taken from colonies with colony collapse disorder. They discovered distinct genetic differences between the two groups. They also discovered genetic material in the bees from colonies with colony collapse disorder that are associated with a type of virus.
Colony collapse disorder has also raised the interest and concern for ecological services. It has been estimated that about one-third of the world’s food production is dependent on pollination by bees. Here in the United States, bee pollination activities are worth between three and fourteen billion dollars annually. Honey bees also pollinate about a fourth of the fruits we consume. These pollinators obviously are providing important ecological services.
It is doubtful that colony collapse disorder will be eliminated soon. What is certain, however, is that this problem has underscored the importance of ecological services and the need to better understand and protect them.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie PUblic. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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