RIC Note:While it isn’t looming large on the public radar, the ongoing ’bee crisis’ continues to trouble scientists, keepers, and farmers alike. The science community continues to search for clues to solve the riddle of Colony Collapse Disorder, but an ultimate solution hasn’t yet been found, and the bees continue to die in alarming numbers.
An article from The New York Times highlights some of the main theories on why the bees are dying off, and warns of our growing jeopardy. The following report, entitled "Robotic Bees to Pollinate Monsanto Crops" shows that money is being used by big interests to provide band-aid solutions, effectively treating a symptom, rather than putting everything into solving the core cause of the deaths - be it from viruses, electromagnetic fields, pollution, or pesticides.
While new tech and robotics is always a tool to be used for good or evil depending on the hand that wields it, are we really willing to go there - will we allow bees to die off completely, and raise an army of robot drones in their place?
Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms
By Michael Wines | NYTimes
A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.
The pesticide industry disputes that. But its representatives also say they are open to further studies to clarify what, if anything, is happening.
“They looked so healthy last spring,” said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. “We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”
In a show of concern, the Environmental Protection Agency recently sent its acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and two top chemical experts here, to the San Joaquin Valley of California, for discussions.
In the valley, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses.
The federal Agriculture Department is to issue its own assessment in May. But in an interview, the research leader at its Beltsville, Md., bee research laboratory, Jeff Pettis, said he was confident that the death rate would be “much higher than it’s ever been.”
Following a now-familiar pattern, bee deaths rose swiftly last autumn and dwindled as operators moved colonies to faraway farms for the pollination season. Beekeepers say the latest string of deaths has dealt them a heavy blow.
Bret Adee, who is an owner, with his father and brother, of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, the nation’s largest beekeeper, described mounting losses.
“We lost 42 percent over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55 percent loss,” he said in an interview here this week.
“They looked beautiful in October,” Mr. Adee said, “and in December, they started falling apart, when it got cold.”
Mr. Dahle said he had planned to bring 13,000 beehives from Montana — 31 tractor-trailers full — to work the California almond groves. But by the start of pollination last month, only 3,000 healthy hives remained.
Annual bee losses of 5 percent to 10 percent once were the norm for beekeepers. But after colony collapse disorder surfaced around 2005, the losses approached one-third of all bees, despite beekeepers’ best efforts to ensure their health.
Nor is the impact limited to beekeepers. The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices.
Precisely why last year’s deaths were so great is unclear. Some blame drought in the Midwest, though Mr. Dahle lost nearly 80 percent of his bees despite excellent summer conditions. Others cite bee mites that have become increasingly resistant to pesticides. Still others blame viruses.
But many beekeepers suspect the biggest culprit is the growing soup of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are used to control pests.
While each substance has been certified, there has been less study of their combined effects. Nor, many critics say, have scientists sufficiently studied the impact of neonicotinoids, the nicotine-derived pesticide that European regulators implicate in bee deaths.
The explosive growth of neonicotinoids since 2005 has roughly tracked rising bee deaths.
Neonics, as farmers call them, are applied in smaller doses than older pesticides. They are systemic pesticides, often embedded in seeds so that the plant itself carries the chemical that kills insects that feed on it.
Older pesticides could kill bees and other beneficial insects. But while they quickly degraded — often in a matter of days — neonicotinoids persist for weeks and even months. Beekeepers worry that bees carry a summer’s worth of contaminated pollen to hives, where ensuing generations dine on a steady dose of pesticide that, eaten once or twice, might not be dangerous.
Pollinators participate in the sexual-reproduction of plants. When you eat an almond, beet, watermelon or sip on coffee, you’re partaking of an ancient relationship between pollinators and flowers. But since the 1990s, worldwide bee health has been in decline and most evidence points to toxic pesticides created by Shell and Bayer and the loss of genetic biodiversity due to the proliferation of GMO monocrops created in laboratories by biotech companies like Monsanto.
But never worry, those real life pollinators—the birds and the bees, as they say—may soon be irrelevant to the food needs of civilization. Harvard roboticists are developing a solution to the crisis: swarms of tiny robot bees made of titanium and plastic that can pollinate those vast dystopian fields of GMO cash crops.
The Harvard Microrobotics Lab has been working on its Micro Air Vehicles Project since early 2009. Borrowing from the biomechanics and social organization of bees, the team of researchers is undergoing the creation of tiny winged robots to fly from flower to flower, immune to the toxins dripping from petals, to spread pollen. They even believe that they will soon be able to program the robobees to live in an artificial hive, coordinate algorithms and communicate amongst themselves about methods of pollination and location of particular crops.
Of course, published reports from the lab also describe potential military uses—surveillance and mapping—but the dime-sized cyber-bees have yet to be outfitted with neurotoxin tipped stingers.
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