Thursday, January 31, 2013

3 Facts You May Not Know About Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

We need bees for our future. They are essential for 130 crops and command 16 billion dollars of industry value. Yet bees are disappearing from the bizarre phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder without signs of an obvious disease. Several of my colleagues in the insect and microbiome fields are working hard to better understand and solve this major problem, including Jay EvansNancy Moran and Irene Newton. It seems as if not just one infectious agent causes colony collapse disorder but rather it arises as a tragedy of diverse reasons.

I came across the talk below and received a major upgrade in my knowledge on Colony Collapse Disorder. Noah Wilson-Rich's Tedx Boston talk raises several counter-intuitive facts about urban beekeeping and its impact on the colony collapse mystery. The 3 most salient facts he describes are below, followed by his full Ted talk.

  • Colony Collapse Disorder is not a new problem. Say what... that's not what Ive been aware of.   Yet Noah shows at 6:03 in his talk that bee die offs have occurred periodically over the last 1000 years.
  • Survival of bees is greater in urban beekeeping (62.5%) than the more traditional rural beekeeping (40%). Can we get some microbiome folks working on this please? Do bees reared on city roof tops have a better microbial community than those reared rurally? Noah's Best Bees Company uses a probiotic nutritious blend (Apivax) to inhibit fungal infections and upregulate the bee immune system.
  • Honey yield is greater in urban beekeeping (26.25%) versus rural beekeeping (16.75%). Here honey yield is measured as average pounds for first year.

I like Noah's approach. He is trying to figure out ways to increase bee health as a complement to others focussed on figuring out how Colony Collapse Disorders arise. The merger of these two paths will undoubtedly be fruitful when it occurs in the future.


  1. Thanks for the summary. My bandwidth is short and I may not get to the full talk until I'm in civilization again.

    I do wonder if the elevation of in CO2 in urban areas, apparently causing elevated pollen counts as vegetation flourishes, has anything to do with this. I do imagine some urban areas have a wider diversity of flowering plants than rural areas dominated by monocultures.

  2. Interesting...but I feel like the fundamental problem of CCD was not addressed meaningfully. If pesticides, miticides and antibiotics are a big part of the problem, probiotics and urban homesteading are weak medicine. Like taking vitamin C at Chernobyl, and hoping for the best. And that timeline was not convincing--a couple anecdotal cases of die-offs in the deep past, then a jump to the 1990s. I think CCD is an outgrowth of the Green Revolution; it's a symptom of a flawed re-conception of agriculture. That said, it would be cool to investigate the role of the microbiome in all this...

    1. Im no expert, so all criticism is valid! Perhaps a bee person can comment and Ill encourage my friends to read this blog and comments. Though I do find the probiotic idea a bit more promising than the vitamin C analogy. One could think of the bee probiotic as the fecal transplant rescue of IBD or C diff. If we can get the immune system bolstered and even inherited through microbiome supplements, the tragedy of infectious agents that accrue could in theory be mitigated in a wholesale way.

  3. Interesting link and talk. I have heard other researchers (like Gene Robinson) comment on the cyclic behavior of bee loss - approximately every 25 years. However, I don't know of any evidence to suggest that the losses of the pass were the same as the disease that is plaguing bees now (CCD). The documentation is written only and from what I know, more similar to honey bee paralysis than CCD. That said, it is interesting to think of larger, more complex systems, being to blame here.

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