Bee Pollinator Decline- KU Conversations 5

By: Courtney Aaron

Hello KU students and welcome to our fifth posting of KU Conversations! This week’s discussion is about the decline in bee pollinators. We chose this topic because it has been discussed multiple times the past few years. You all may have heard about bees disappearing and about colony collapse disorder within the United States or other countries. For those of you who are new to this subject we have a very informative summary page about the decline from the ESA (Ecological Society of America) website. This page gives information about how pollination works; what insects are pollinators; common causes of pollinator decline; and other helpful information. Some of you may be wondering why pollinators are so important. We have a presidential memorandum to create a federal strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators from the White House website. The article explains why pollinators are important and all the actions that must to be taken to create a successful federal strategy.

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Apis Mellifera (western honeybee)- photo provided by Paolo~ via Flickr

There are multiple reasons why the number of bee pollinators are decreasing. One of the more recent concerns is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD is the disappearance of adult worker bees from colonies. The queen and younger bees are still present along with enough resources to survive. They may also be some nursing bees left behind as well. We have a great video from Associated Press (may require KU student login) that gives a general overview about what CCD is. The video also provides a brief interview with the chief bee researcher from the Agriculture Research Service within the US Department of Agriculture, Jeff Pettis. We also have a descriptive study of CCD from Agricola (may require KU student login). This article’s is an epizootiological study of CCD and compare the healthy hives and those with risk factors for the disease. The EPA posted statistics on their website that shows a decline in CCD.

Although there is evidence of decline in Colony Collapse Disorder there are still many other prevalent risks and dangers to bee pollinators. One of the well-known causes of decline is the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV). Bees infected with DWV develop deformed wings, a bloated abdomen, and noticeable discoloration. For a more in-depth look at DWV we have two great resources.

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Honeybee with DWV (Deformed Wing Virus) with Varroa Destructor on her torso- photo provided by Stefan de Konink

First we have an article from Science Direct (may require KU student login). This article goes into further detail about the virus including its history, genetics, pathology, and how it is transmitted. This second article is provided by Science (may require KU student login). This article focuses on a vector of the virus, specifically Varroa Destructor mites. Other reasons for bee decline include bee pathogens, diseases, parasites, and decline in beekeepers. This next article from Agricola discusses all of those dangers but focuses on bee pathogens and diseases and how they impact the difficulty of bee keeping. One of the most surprising dangers to bee pollinators we’ve researched are the phenological changes to both pollinators and the plants they pollinate. This article from BioOne (may require KU student login) shows evidence that the timing of certain plants that bloom and the timing of when certain pollinators start pollinating are becoming out of sync. The article also suggests how to manage the phenological changes as well.

Many of you may be wondering how can the decline of the bee pollinators be reversed. One method that is being used is increasing beekeepers in the world. We found an article from Agricola (may require KU student login), which estimates honeybee colony density in Africa and Europe. Since this study was conducted to understand whether or not increasing beekeeping would help the decline of pollinators, the density of the bees were estimated in a way that would prevent bias caused by beekeeper activity. One of the most fascinating methods we discovered while researching solutions is a method used in Maoxian County, Sichuan China. This article provided by BioOne (may require KU student login) discusses how farmers are using human pollinators for apples and a few other crops due to the decrease in natural pollinators. The article also talks about how the farmers are switching their crops to fruits and vegetables that don’t require pollination.

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Butterfly on flowers- photo provided by Salvatore Gerace

Our last article goes into the effectiveness of non-bee pollinators. This article is from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). It focuses on how non-bee pollinators compare to bee pollinators by counting how many flowers and plants they visit; how effective they are at pollinating; and how many conditions they need to successfully pollinate.

Can you think of any ways to help prevent the decline of bee pollinators? Do you think CCD will disappear completely, or is it only declining because beekeepers are taking extra precautions against it? How do you think the world would look without bee pollinators? Feel free to answer these questions or make a KU conversation request of your own in the comments section here or on our Rohrbach Library Facebook post.

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