Pollinator Health and CCD

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Bees assist in the pollination of many fruits, vegetables and other foods. As such, the health of bees is critical to crop yields, which drive the price and availability of many foods. Pollinator health has been the focus of many recent news stories, most often about the concern over the factors impacting global bee health.

Mixed Messages: Africanized Bees and Pollinator Health

Africanized bees reached Arizona in the early ’90s. Now, according to the University of Arizona, it is estimated that almost 100% of wild bee colonies in Arizona are Africanized honey bee colonies. The emergence of Africanized bees in Arizona over the last two decades has in fact led to several deaths in the state.

Media outlets have attempted to educate the public about the behavior, aggressive nature, and typical locations of Africanized bees, highlighting the need to stay away from them. Africanized bees are most likely to be swarming or building hives in or around homes and businesses, creating a real health hazard. Bees located in these areas should be removed to reduce the likelihood of an Africanized bee attack.

These wild Africanized bee colonies assist in pollination, but while they do help, commercial bee colonies are often brought in by farmers to pollinate their crops and/or groves. These bees are generally European honey bees, which are not as aggressive as Africanized honey bees and do not pose the same health risk.

Where Africanized honey bees do not pose any possible health threat—i.e., they are located far away from where people frequent—they generally should be left alone so they can continue their beneficial pollination work.

Colony Collapse Disorder and Its Impact on Pollinator Health

Within the last decade, bees have started experiencing what is called colony collapse disorder (CCD). CCD occurs when worker bees abandon the colony, which destroys or severely weakens the colony as a whole. The impact CCD has on overall bee health, bee populations, and the perceived threat to the food supply has brought a sizable amount of global focus to the problem. Major organizations have undertaken research to determine the factors that cause CCD so that responsible policies can be introduced to reverse its impact.

Researching the Causes of CCD

There is a growing consensus among these research scientists that the primary causes of CCD are Varroa mites, nutrition, certain fungi and various diseases. Several investigators and interest groups have examined whether pesticides are contributing factor to CCD, with studies bringing the attention to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or “neonics.”

Some media outlets have inaccurately stated that neonics are the cause of CCD. This misinterpretation of scientific research has generated calls for bans or moratoriums to prevent the use of neonics. However, it is important to understand the science behind neonics so that public policy is not shaped by these inaccurate reports and information driven into the public sphere.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that “several studies that reported a negative impact on honey bees by neonicotinoids relied on large, unrealistic doses and gave bees no other choice for pollen, and therefore did not reflect risk to honey bees under real world conditions. Nor have the studies demonstrated a direct connection or correlation to CCD.”

While neonics and other pesticides may not be a primary cause for CCD, they will always, of course, be viewed with suspicion.

Professional Applicators and a Commitment to Pollinator Health

Although there is growing consensus that neonics are not a primary cause of CCD, applicators of pesticides should be mindful that any misapplication can influence the public’s interpretation of its impact on pollinator health.

Professional applicators have a responsibility to ensure pollinators are not inadvertently affected by a misapplication of a product. Continued support should be given to researchers throughout the world to help the public better understand the complicated convergence of the various causes of CCD so we can implement better policy and measures to protect pollinators.