Sunday, April 22, 2007

Colony Collapse Disorder

A bee & CCD: to bee or not to bee?
Bee afraid, bee very afraid

Last fall, the mysterious illness started. Colonies simply disappear. In January 2007, the size of the problem became obvious. About 27 U.S. states see the problem that has already decimated roughly 1/2 of their bee populations. In February 2007, your humble correspondent warned Bee about the problem.

Video above: music by Karel Svoboda, an ingenious composer who shot himself: memorian, Slivers of Glass I, Slivers of Glass II.

In March, the problem was dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) although BBC preferred a Vanishing Bee Syndrome (VBS).

What can be causing such an abrupt decline of the bee populations in the U.S.? It must be something fast, something that has changed rather abruptly. Some possibilities:
  • A virus
  • Changes in the ultraviolet background: bees see in the UV spectrum; it could be related to the ozone hole
  • Changes in the IR spectrum
  • Social collapse caused by external factors, e.g. infiltration by Cape honeybees from Africa: they produce their own young, with no respect for the queen's brood; it won't be trivial to find and execute the African intruders
  • Social collapse caused by internal factors, i.e. a new kind of communism or environmentalism forcing the freedom-loving bees to emigrate; it won't be trivial to find and exterminate the alarmist bees
  • A new kind of nutrition supplement or other stuff given to the bees, e.g. genetically-modified crops
  • A new chemical compound that appeared in their environment such as new pesticides

Some research has been made with 1.9 GHz cordless phones, indicating that they could have some impact. Journalists talk about "cellphones" which seems inaccurate although the frequencies are similar. It is not impossible that cellphone signals suddenly start to have impact on bees: still, I find it unlikely.

If this problem doesn't go away, it may become a story. Still, the annual value of pollination in the U.S. is estimated at 15 billion USD only, about 0.1% of the GDP. I think it is a significant underestimate of the importance and value of the bees, these hard-working friends of ours, but on the other hand, I don't think that a huge decline of bees would imply anything comparable to a decline of the civilization.

And that's the memo.

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