Honeybees play a crucial role in agriculture, and I’m not only referring to the honey that we use for baked goods and at tea time.  Sorry, Pooh Bear. Pollination of many fruit and vegetable crops is facilitated by honeybees when gathering nectar from flowers of these plants.  Only following successful pollination and fertilization of said flowers can fruits and vegetables begin to grow.  Therefore, bee population and health is directly tied to our supply of many fruits and vegetables you see in gardens, farmers markets and in grocery stores:

common crops pollinated by bees

In 2006, beekeepers and scientists became aware of a phenomenon in which honeybees appeared to abandon their hives.  In most cases, the queen was still alive and no dead bee bodies were found inside.  The name for this condition is just as mysterious: colony collapse disorder (CCD).  Prior to 2006, a beekeeper could expect to lose 1 out of 10 hives during typical winter.  Due to CCD, losses have tripled and could potentially reach 50%.

The cause(s) of CCD have not been proven, but may be related to pathogens, pests (Varroa mites are frequently associated with CCD), poor nutrition, mismanagement of hives, environmental stress (drought) and agricultural chemicals.  Recently, one class of insecticide has been “accused” of being the cause of CCD: neonicotinoids, which have been used since the 1990s on a wide variety of vegetable and field crops as a soil, seed or foliar treatment.  The evidence is mounting against neonicotinoids, causing the European Commission instituted a 2-year ban on these insecticides earlier this month.  However, many researchers are questioning the effectiveness of the ban as CCD is widely thought to have more than one causal agent.  More research is definitely required to alleviate bee shortages and secure the future of our favorite pollinators and crops.

PS – Penn State entomologists have been leading the way in pollinator research.  Talking CCD on BBC News Hour (go to 17:50).