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Those Insecticides We’re Told Aren’t Killing Bees Are Also Hurting Birds

by Steve Williams

Despite many politicians being in complete denial about the mounting evidence of a connection between certain insecticides and the collapse of bee populations, new research shows that those same insecticides are probably indirectly leading to bird die-offs, too.

A new study published this month in Nature looks at data from the Netherlands which the researchers say shows a sharp decline in certain bird populations in areas where insecticides known as neonicotinoids were used the most.

Neonicotinoids are among the new wave of insecticides that have been developed in the past 50 years. They were supposed to be revolutionary for the farming industry and were billed as less damaging for the environment and wildlife. However, study after study has linked them to a decline in pollinators and even to bee Colony Collapse Disorder, while a 2013 examination of peer reviewed literature called for tighter restrictions on neonicotinoid use as, used in the concentrations and amounts that we see on farms today, the scientists concluded there is enough evidence to suggest that these insecticides are harming bees and other insects who aren’t supposed to be targeted.

Concerns have also been raised about the wider impact on wildlife beyond our pollinators. While neonicotinoids are billed as not being as toxic to mammals, and in particular birds of prey, scientific literature has suggested an unintended impact: by killing insects that the mammals eat, they may be driving down certain sensitive populations, and that’s precisely what the study from the Netherlands found.

Interestingly the researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands started their research not by exploring the impact of neonicotinoids, but by looking at two different data sets, one of bird counts, and the other of surface water measurements of the most common neonicotinoid, and through this the scientists were able to track the decline in bird numbers during the period of 2003 to 2010 while leaving the door open for other possible causes of bird population decline.

They found that there may be several factors contributing to the fall in numbers, such as an intensification of farming which often means uprooting bird habitats, like digging up hedges or dismantling barns.

Still, the researchers found that the presence of imidacloprid, one of the leading neonicotinoids, is incontrovertibly impacting birds and may be the main cause of bird decline in the region. They found that if ground water had just 20 nanograms of neonicotinoid per liter, there was a 30 percent fall in bird numbers during the study period–and what’s more, some areas had pollution levels that was 50 times higher than that figure.

In total, the researchers found that 14 out of 15 common insect-eating bird species, like barn swallows, tree sparrows and starlings, had suffered sometimes dramatic population declines.

Research similar but not identical to this has been dismissed in the past because it didn’t control for other factors, but this research did, yet the pattern still emerged. That is why lead researcher Hans de Kroon believes its time to take this problem seriously because, if neonicotinoids are indirectly harming birds, they’re probably harming other wildlife that prey on insects, too.

David Gouslon of the University of Sussex, who wasn’t involved in this study but did write a separate commentary, says this research is convincing. He tells the Guardian: “The simplest, most obvious, explanation is that highly toxic substances that kill insects lead to declines in things that eat insects. … This work flags up the point that this isn’t just about bees, it is about everything. When hundreds or thousands of species or insect are being wiped out, it’s going to have impacts on bats, shrews, hedgehogs, you name it. It is pretty good evidence of wholesale damage to the environment.”

Goulson also highlights that unlike the Netherlands, the UK (and much of Europe) isn’t monitoring neonicotinoid pollution. The UK agency responsible for overseeing matters dealing with the environment and wildlife, called Defra, remains stalwart that the research isn’t overwhelming and that, at the moment, there isn’t compelling evidence to show a definite link between neonicotinoids and harm to wildlife.

Defra says that these kinds of pesticides are safe when used as recommended and points to the admittedly (usually) rigorous short-term trials carried out by neonicotinoid producers. The problem though is precisely that they are only short-term trials. Manufacturers haven’t used longer-term systematic trials but if they did, scientists say the data would show the harms neonicotinoids can create over longer periods of time.

It was hoped that this message was, at last, getting through, when in 2013 the EU imposed a two-year suspension of thre neonicotinoids, but it emerged the suspension is largely toothless because the EU is failing to track data during this time, and a two year suspension is unlikely to give any meaningful data anyway.

We have to be clear that this latest study implies a link and not causation, but because this adds to a wider body of data that all suggests a link, the evidence for probable causation is growing ever more formidable. All this leads us to ask: how much scientific data do we need, and how many impartial experts need to speak out, before our politicians will act?

Or perhaps the better question is, how many animal populations have to collapse before our governments see fit to do something and actually tackle the issue of neonicotinoids?

 

Read full story · Posted in News

As Honeybees Die Off, First Inventory of Wild Bees Is Under Way

By Sasha Ingber via nationalgeographic.com

Not every bee may count, but Sam Droege is counting every bee.

On Saturdays, the head of the landmark Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program at the U.S. Geological Survey leaves his straw-bale house, where bees burrow in the walls, and goes to his office—for pleasure. From his desk, a recycled segment of a lane from a bowling alley, he pores over bee specimens with a microscope.

“I’m looking deeply into [their] eyes to see what they reveal,” said Droege. “I’m looking for species in potential trouble, gathering information on their status before they’re designated an endangered species.” (See “Intimate Portraits of Bees” for more of Droege’s bee pictures.)

Droege is pioneering the first national inventory of indigenous wild bees, a task of growing importance. The buzz started in 2006 when honeybees, the non-native species used commercially to pollinate crops, began to mysteriously vanish after leaving their hives. If honeybees continue to wane in coming decades, scientists believe wild bees could save our crops. (See “The Plight of the Honeybee.”)

Problems for Pollinators

More than half of managed U.S. honeybee colonies have disappeared in the past ten years. Though native to Eurasia and northern Africa, honeybees pollinate a third of the American diet, from nuts to produce—not to mention coffee and cotton. In 2010 they contributed to more than $19 billion worth of crops. (Related: “U.S. Honeybee Losses Not as Severe This Year.“)

Pesticides, fungicides, and viruses, among other factors, have contributed to the honeybees’ decline. Though they lack a traditional vertebrate circulatory system, they’re vulnerable to parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, which deforms their bodies and shortens their life span.

Little is known about the hardiness of the honeybee’s native counterpart, the mostly solitary wild bee. Many scientists believe that wild bee populations were once greater, but have dwindled as land was developed and agriculture intensified.

Home gardeners may also be contributing to the bees’ habitat loss. Gardeners with a love of exotic plants often uproot native ones, not realizing that this deprives most pollinators of their food. Other factors limiting the bees’ food supply include the effects of climate change, droughts, floods, and flowers blooming prematurely as the days grow warmer.

The Bees in Our Backyard

“People were collecting bees in the early 1900s, but they weren’t doing quantitative analyses,” said Georgetown University biologist Edd Barrows.

In 1998, Barrows gathered bees in Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia, using mesh, tentlike structures called Malaise traps. The bees he collected then—still awaiting examination due to lack of time and funds—could serve as a historical reference point to show scientists how the preserve’s bee fauna is changing due to water and air pollution, erosion, and invasive plants.

“We need to have some way of measuring whether native bees are increasing or decreasing,” said Droege.

His own survey methods are unconventional, albeit familiar to scientists on shoestring budgets. To collect bees, plastic party cups act as pan traps. (Droege says the idea stems from the 1970s, when butchers gave their customers yellow pans, which people would fill with soapy water to catch bugs outside.)

Workers from New Horizons Supported Services, an organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities in Maryland gain employment, paint the cups to mimic the colors bees prefer in flowers. Then the cups are filled with propylene glycol—the same substance used to maintain moisture in food, medicine, and cosmetics. Its low surface tension means that insects will sink to the bottom. Every two weeks, the traps are emptied by volunteers.

After that the bees are washed, dried, and stored at the USGS lab in repurposed pizza boxes. Their deaths serve as a chance to learn about, and monitor, potentially endangered native bee species.

The biggest problem is telling the bees apart. Bees are often difficult to differentiate, and about 400 species—ten percent of North America’s bees—lack names. (Compare that to the 1,000 ant species that have been named.)

“[They're] not something someone like a birder could look at, and say, ‘That’s a robin,’” said biologist Daniel Kjar of Elmira College in New York.

So Droege spends hours trying to identify species. His team captures the pitting on their skin, the striations of hair on their abdomens, and other physical traits with a macro lens camera—a sort of insect portraiture. Droege says these body features may help bees avoid predation and attract mates.

Harvesting the Unknown

Today, scientists will go to great lengths to study the small insects.

Sean Brady, head of the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Entomology, is studying evolutionary relationships between different bee species. He’s sequencing their genetic material, which can cost between $10,000 and $50,000 for a complete genome.

He’s also interested in understanding why, among certain bee species that produce offspring twice in a season, the first brood spends its lifetime caring for the second hatching instead of reproducing. The work may help him understand the social behavior and pollination strategy of wild bees.

“The unknown can be a good thing,” said Brady. “There is a lot to learn in the next 10 to 20 years.”

In 2010 and 2011, Brady and Droege set up traps in the cacti and thorn scrub of Guantanamo Bay, where the native habitat is preserved in the midst of the prison camp. They collected more than a third of the bee species that live on the entire island of Cuba. A new species they discovered was quickly named—Megachile droegei, after Droege.

Read full story · Posted in News

Boulder neighborhood state’s first to be declared ‘bee-safe’

Melody-Catalpa volunteers secure pledges to shun pesticides
By Charlie Brennan 

The Melody-Catalpa neighborhood of Boulder is proudly wearing the mantle of the first “bee-safe” locality in Colorado.

It may not be a title for which there was fierce competition, but those in the roughly 200 households of the north Boulder neighborhood who signed a pledge not to use neonicotinoids or similar systemic pesticides are buzzing with excitement over earning the distinction.

Three neighborhood residents earlier this year banded together to sign on about 20 volunteers to go door to door. And, faster than they’d dared hope, they convinced more than half of the area’s 389 households to sign a pledge not to use neuroactive chemicals that many believe are contributing to the colony collapse phenomenon reported in global honeybee populations.

Those doing so were awarded green flags, signifying their commitment, to plant in their front lawns. Some homes there have not yet been contacted by the volunteers, but will be.

“We felt really good about it,” said Anne Bliss, one of the three organizers and a resident of the 3500 block of Catalpa Way. “We thought we would finish this by the end of May, and we more than had our goal really quickly. It took us a couple weeks.”

Molly Greacen, another of the drivers behind the Melody-Catalpa bee-safe initiative, said, “The real concern is that if we can get lots of other people to get excited about this idea, then all of Boulder can become bee-safe.”

[view full article via dailycamera.com]

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CBS NEWS: Urban beekeeping flourishes: Inside the L.A. push to legalize backyard hives

Bee colonies are vital to our food supply, but they have been dying off for nearly a decade. CBS News’ Ben Tracy reports on the rise of urban beekeeping, and the push in Los Angeles for a “pro-bee” ordinance to officially allow beekeeping.

CBS This Morning

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, News

LA Times: Beekeepers urge L.A. council to allow backyard hives

LA Times article about backyard beekeeping

Beekeepers urge L.A. council to allow backyard hives

by Emily Alpert Reyes—February 12, 2014, 8:22 a.m.

Backyard beekeepers are urging the city to allow Angelenos to keep hives at home, joining the ranks of cities such as New York and Santa Monica that already permit the practice in residential areas.

The Los Angeles City Council is slated to vote Wednesday on whether to ask city officials to draw up a report on allowing beekeeping in residential zones, a possible first step toward permitting backyard beekeeping.

Under Los Angeles city codes, beekeeping isn’t allowed in residential zones, according to city planning officials. Backyard beekeeping has nonetheless blossomed as Angelenos committed to locavore living or worried about the health of honeybees have started tending hives at home.

“It’s the yummiest way of breaking the law,” said Max Wong, who keeps bees in her backyard in Mount Washington. Her neighbors were stunned when she told them it wasn’t allowed there under city code, she said.

“Beekeeping should never have been illegal,” Wong said. The image of urban greenery is “part of what makes Los Angeles, Los Angeles,” she said.

So far, both beekeepers and city officials say few complaints have been lodged about illegal beekeeping in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Such complaints are so rare, said Department of Building and Safety spokesman Luke Zamperini, that the department doesn’t track them in their own category.

Beekeepers argue that new rules would nonetheless wipe out the legal unease they now face in the city, clearing up exactly what is allowed.

“Regulations would bring Los Angeles up to speed with pretty much all the other major metropolitan areas around the country,” said Rob McFarland, co-founder of the Los Angeles beekeeping nonprofit HoneyLove. In addition, “it would give beekeepers the guidelines to help make it as safe as possible.”

More than a dozen neighborhood councils, including those in Van Nuys, Eagle Rock, Hollywood and Palms, have backed at least exploring the idea. Some supporters invoke the threat of colony collapse disorder, which has devastated commercial hives that pollinate billions of dollars in crops globally…

[view the complete article via latimes.com]

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLove Interviews

City Council Looks into Urban Beekeeping Ordinance

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee directed city staff to study the idea and report back in two months.
[Posted by Alexander Nguyen on Patch.com]

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A City Council committee Tuesday took the first steps toward allowing residents to keep beehives in their yards for the production of honey and wax and to pollinate their gardens.

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee directed city staff to report back in two months on the best ways to allow “beekeeping” activity in single-family residential areas.

Council members who last year proposed overturning the city’s prohibition on beekeeping in those areas said promoting the practice will “foster a healthier bee population.”

The bee population has been reported to be “in steep decline,” prompting concerns that the local economy and the state’s agricultural industry would be negatively affected, according to a related motion introduced Tuesday by Councilman Jose Huizar.

His motion calls for city staff to come up with “humane and non-lethal” ways to relocate or remove unwanted bee hives to serve as alternatives to existing methods used by government agencies, “given the usefulness of bees to California’s agricultural industry and the growing popularity of urban beekeeping.” — City News Service

[view original post via Patch.com]

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

SWEET! HoneyLove.org featured on @SoulPancake #beefever

The Uncommon Good | HoneyLove via SoulPancake
Did you know that bees pollinate one out of every bite of food we eat? Rob and Chelsea McFarland founded HoneyLove.org to inspire and educate people about becoming urban beekeepers.

Producer/Director – Ari Weinberger
Cinematographer – Todd Kappelt
Camera Operator – Nash Dutton
Assistant Camera – Kenny Mylar
Sound Engineer – John Betton
Editor – Andrew Golibersuch
Animator – Ian Heifetz
Voice Over Artist – Elan Weinberger

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLovin

Advanced Beek Meeting: October Recap

Adv Beek Mtg 1
The new Advanced Beekeeper meetings began at HoneyLove on October 27. Held on the last Sunday of each month at 11am at the HoneyLove office, these meetings will fill the gap left by the Backwards Beekeepers and will help advance the learning of the L.A. treatment-free community.

Each meeting will have a member-speaker teaching us all something new as well as a general open Q&A and mentorship opportunities. Beekeepers of all levels are welcome to attend; HoneyLove also has more introductory-level beekeeper meetings on the 2nd Saturday of each month. Attendees are encouraged to join HoneyLove.org for extra benefits and the tax-deductible donation.

The October speaker was Josip Benko, a second-generation beekeeper with over 30 years of experience. Josip is from the former Czechoslovakia and shares the philosophy of observing the bees because they’ll show you what they need. He is also big on experimentation and customizing his hive boxes.

Josip brought several hive box samples; these are reduced for education purposes. He now uses 7 or 9 frame boxes because his observation is that bees don’t like even numbers.

ADV Beek 1
Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove HQ, HoneyLove Workshops

LISTEN: "Guerrilla Beekeeping in L.A." via KQED Public Radio

Interview by Colin Berry.
The California Report is a production of KQED Public Radio.

honeybees

Commercial honeybee colonies around the world are collapsing, and scientists are trying to figure out why. The good news? Bees are thriving in urban areas. In California, San Francisco, San Jose, and other big cities have laws that allow beekeeping. Los Angeles could be next, if a coalition of amateur beekeepers has anything to say about it. Reporter: Colin Berry

Deep in a sunny backyard in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake district, a colony of 50,000 Western honeybees is getting oriented to its new surroundings. Yesterday, the swarm was living under the eaves of a house in Whittier, some 20 miles away. But they’re here today because Walker Rollins and Kirk Anderson took the time to remove them — humanely.

Anderson and Rollins are members of a club called Backwards Beekeepers, which relocates bee swarms and colonies in L.A. several times a week. Yet in doing so, they’re breaking the law, because beekeeping here is illegal, and the city’s most common tactic in dealing with feral bees is to exterminate them.

Anderson says most people with a bad opinion about feral bees have barely any experience working with them. “Bees are like people,” he said. “Everybody has a bad day. If a beehive has a bad day, people want to have it destroyed. If a person has a bad day, they put them on Oprah.”

But many Angelenos are frightened of bees, and might be uneasy with the thought of 50,000 of them living next door. Ron Lorenzen, an urban forestry manager for the city, says that while he wouldn’t oppose a law allowing beekeeping in residential areas, his own agency’s rationale for eradicating bees on public property is based on evidence of a dangerous new hybrid.

“I’m not a bee professional, but a pest control adviser [in our office] said that 80 percent of the hives they’re finding are actually Africanized colonies. Evidently the bees are becoming more homogenous.”

Africanized bee colonies have been associated with the “killer” bees that have recently attacked people and animals, causing some fatalities. Western honeybees are considered less aggressive.

Backwards Beekeeper co-founder Kirk Anderson, who’s raised bees for 45 years, thinks what Lorenzen says is nonsense. Bees aren’t pests, Anderson says, and relying on pest experts to determine a city’s bee policy is ludicrous.

“All bees are defensive,” he explained. “There’s always been mean bees, and they can be mean for different reasons. By understanding them, you can do things so you don’t trigger their meanness or their defensive actions.”

Across the city, Rob and Chelsea McFarland run a nonprofit called Honey Love. After piloting feasibility studies and launching petitions, the McFarlands have begun lobbying the city’s 95 neighborhood councils to make beekeeping legal in L.A.

“We go on right after the ordinances for much heavier topics like gangs and drugs,” Chelsea said. “We go up and we’re like, ‘Yay bees!’ and they’re like, ‘You guys are the most delightful ordinance we’ve ever had to vote on.’”

These guerrilla beekeepers believe that cities, with their diverse vegetation and lack of agricultural pesticides, are the bees’ best bet for countering colony collapse disorder (CCD), and that legalizing bees in L.A. would be a big win for everybody. (CCD is a phenomenon where honeybees abandon their hives; it has been on the increase in recent years and is significant economically because many crops worldwide are pollinated by honeybees.)

Rob McFarland says that encouraging people to keep honeybees in cities makes them safer from factors that are endangering the insects commercially.

Rob and Chelsea McFarland have the support of 11th District city council member Mike Bonin. His proposal — allowing beekeeping in single-family neighborhoods — is moving through the Planning Commission and could be up for a vote in as few as five months.

“Currently, we allow single-family homes to do truck gardening — growing berries, flowers, fruits, herbs, mushrooms and nuts for private use or for sale at farmers’ markets,” Bonin explained. “This proposal would afford the same opportunity for beekeeping.”

Beekeeping is legal in San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento. Russell Bates, who founded Backwards Beekeepers with his wife, Amy Seidenwurm, and Kirk Anderson, says interest in beekeeping is rising all over California, especially in urban areas where people are passionate about local agriculture and sustainability.

“We’ve seen it on the rise in Arcata and Berkeley and Oakland,” he said. “It bubbles up wherever people are curious about how to be more in tune with nature.”

Officials estimate there are 10 colonies of feral bees in every square mile of L.A. With support for the new law beginning to swarm, the state’s biggest city could be bee-friendly by this time next year.

[view original post via californiareport.org]

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLove Interviews

Biodynamic Apiculture and Alternative Hives Workshop

Thanks to everyone who came out for our Biodynamic Apiculture and Alternative Hives Workshop!
Biodynamic2

Click here to sign up for our monthly newsletter and see the full write up from our workshop!

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove HQ, HoneyLovin