Web Extra: Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

Dr. Corrie Moreau, Assistant Curator of Insects at the Field Museum, spoke with us about Bee Colony Collapse Disorder.

How would you describe Bee Colony Collapse Disorder? 

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Colony collapse disorder (CCD) describes the phenomenon where honeybee populations have drastically decreased since around 2005. The exact cause of CDC is still unknown and many factors have been hypothesized to be the culprit, including pesticides, parasites, pathogens, fungi, climate change, land use, etc. Although the cause is still unknown, the answer probably lies at the intersection of several of these factors, since all can have negative effects on honeybees and other wildlife.

Is it a rising problem in North America? What about in Illinois?

In short, yes. We know that honeybees are in decline and since we rely on them to pollinate many of our agricultural crops, this can have profound effects on our food production. This is true across the U.S. and here in Illinois.

Colony Collapse Disorder has destroyed 10 million beehives since 2007. What are the most significant consequences? 

As far as we know, CCD has not affected our native pollinators (bumblebees, butterflies, beetles, flies, etc.), but since we rely on honeybees to pollinate many of our food crops, this could affect our ability to produce many crops, including apples, watermelon, and cashews in the large quantities required for our population.  Remember honeybees are not native to North America, but we have come to rely on them to pollinate our food crops. 

Why is it important to relocate bee hives rather than destroy them?

If the hives are being removed and then used for pollination of crops, they are performing valuable roles in our food production. In a time when many honeybee hives are being impacted by colony collapse disorder, insuring that the hives are being moved instead of destroyed is important.

Are more people trying to call someone to remove bee hives, rather than exterminate them these days?

People often consider honeybees that live in their yards or outside their homes to be pests. However, now they are starting to be more aware that honeybees are in a compromised state, so they are more likely to call someone to rescue them, rather than an exterminator. People realize that we benefit from them.

Karen Kramer Wilson, Living Invertebrate Specialist at The Chicago Academy of Sciences and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, also weighed in about Colony Collapse Disorder.

image credit: Wikimedia CommonsWhat does Colony Collapse Disorder look like?

The bees basically just disappear, and it's mysterious because it’s hard to pin down what happened. They vacate the hive, as if they went out for lunch and didn't come back. This is frustrating for beekeepers, because it’s hard for them to recognize that it’s coming.

What do experts believe causes this to happen?

It’s really looking like it’s a combination of factors that are causing this syndrome, two being new mites and diseases that have come to the country. 

Why is this alarming?

The biggest problem is how reliant we are on honeybees for pollination services. We think of them as providing us with honey, but the truth is they are incredibly important. They provide a huge pollination service for us. In fact, one third of our food is pollinated by them. If the honeybees disappeared, it would completely change the way we eat. It would take away many elements of our diet, such as blueberries, almonds, fruits and vegetables, and impact all the industries that produce those things. I actually think this a case where our lives would be forever changed if we lost the honeybee. It would have a huge impact on our daily lives. We can’t replicate that pollination service. We can’t do that as people.

How can average people help the situation?

Don’t use harmful pesticides in your yards, and also think about planting more local, native plants in your yard. It’s like providing home-style cooking for your backyard friends, instead of exotic food.

Interviews have been condensed and edited.

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