Thursday, May 03, 2007

Not all Army work is destructive

By now, those of us paying attention have heard of the Case of the Mysterious Missing Honeybees:

In 24 states throughout the country, beekeepers have gone through [...] shocks as their bees have been disappearing inexplicably at an alarming rate, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the production of numerous crops, including California almonds, one of the nation’s most profitable.

“I have never seen anything like it,” Mr. Bradshaw, 50, said from an almond orchard here beginning to bloom. “Box after box after box are just empty. There’s nobody home.”

The sudden mysterious losses are highlighting the critical link that honeybees play in the long chain that gets fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables across the country.

Beekeepers have fought regional bee crises before, but this is the first national affliction.

Now, in a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, bees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their colonies. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

As researchers scramble to find answers to the syndrome they have decided to call “colony collapse disorder,” growers are becoming openly nervous about the capability of the commercial bee industry to meet the growing demand for bees to pollinate dozens of crops, from almonds to avocados to kiwis.

Along with recent stresses on the bees themselves, as well as on an industry increasingly under consolidation, some fear this disorder may force a breaking point for even large beekeepers.

A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. (emphasis mine)

However, the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center may have solved the mystery:

Researchers have identified potential culprits behind the wide-spread catastrophic death of honey bees around North America and Europe. A team of scientists from Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and University of California San Francisco identified both a virus and a parasite that are likely behind the recent sudden die-off of honey-bee colonies.

Using a new technology called the Integrated Virus Detection System (IVDS), which was designed for military use to rapidly screen samples for pathogens, ECBC scientists last week isolated the presence of viral and parasitic pathogens that may be contributing to the honeybee loss. Confirmation testing was conducted over the weekend by scientists at the University of California San Francisco. ECBC scientists presented the results of their studies yesterday to a United States Department of Agriculture working group, hastily convened to determine next steps.

For the past year, experts have observed a marked decline in the honey bee population, with entire colonies collapsing without warning. Approximately 50 percent of hives have disappeared and researchers around the country are scrambling to find out why. Scientists have termed this phenomenon "Colony Collapse Disorder" and fear that without honey bees to pollinate crops like fruits, vegetables, and almonds the loss of honey bees could have an enormous horticultural and economic impact around the world.

ECBC is one of many academic, commercial and government concerns studying the honey bee population decline. ECBC’s role will be to identify the extent of the problem and conduct ongoing detection activities.

One summer when I was in high school and both ECBC and I had different names -- its was Edgewood Arsenal -- I worked there. So did my pal Vintage Flowerchild. Sixteen years old and I had a security clearance. Yes, I used to work for Uncle Sam, just like George Bush does. (clears throat)

Anyway, it's nice to see that all that military whiz-bang genius designed to save soldiers from chemical attack might also help us save our food supply, especially since the news from China is so frightening.

1 comment:

AMorris said...

Thanks for the info. The stuff about the bees is bad news. The LW and I were looking into getting a hive started, but then couldn't get any queens because even the N. California folks were in trouble.