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Carly Otis

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Can urban beehives increase food production?

It has been estimated that somewhere between fifty and ninety percent of the colonies of bees in US beekeeping operations have collapsed from a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This disorder is characterized by the disappearance of bees from a colony, but a lack of dead bodies to explain where they went. Some scientists believe that the culprit is a virus known as the Israeli acute paralysis virus (Cox-Foster et al, 2007). CCD is causing the collapse of bee colonies all over the world, reducing pollination rates, and causing essential food sources to become more scarce and more expensive. Noah Wilson-Rich, a scientist who studies bee diseases, has suggested an easy solution to the problem: urban beekeeping. In his Ted Talk “Every City Needs Healthy Honey Bees”, Wilson-Rich shares that bees are actually surviving better in urban environments than rural ones. He suggests that increasing the number of urban beehives, along with introducing green roofs and urban gardens, will allow food production to begin to increase (while also reducing the prices of many crops). In many cities in the United States it is illegal to have a beehive because people are allergic and/or afraid of bees, but in some countries urban beekeeping is thriving (Paris, France is a great example!). 

Do you think it is possible for the United States to develop an urban beekeeping industry? Would it have enough of a positive outcome to outweigh the downsides of urban beehives?



Closing Statement from Carly Otis

After much conversation, I think it is safe to say that most people think that urban beehives will have a positive influence on honey bee populations and biological diversity in urban environments. However, many people pointed out that this will not solve the issue of colony collapse disorder that is facing bees. Much more research needs to be done to determine what the true culprit of this phenomenon is (possibilities are neonicotinoid pesticides, varroa mites, Israeli acute paralysis virus, etc), but in the meanwhile urban beehives can help to maintain populations. It was mentioned a few times throughout the conversation that many people will be opposed to the introduction of urban beehives due to the rather large portion of our society that is afraid of and/or allergic to bees. To get around this, many people suggested that schools implement some sort of program to teach the public that honey bees are actually nothing to be afraid of, and that they will only harm you if you harm them. In addition, keeping beehives in places that are out of public view will help to alleviate some issues relating to neighborly disputes and accidental stings. One good technique is to place hives on rooftops, which will force bees to fly at a higher elevation and reduce the amount of bee-human interactions. Another issue with urban beekeeping is that there are much fewer food resources for bees in urban environments than rural ones, so it was decided that an urban beekeeping industry will only be successful in places where urban gardens and/or green roofs are also successful. Overall, it sounds like urban beekeeping has a good chance in the U.S., as long as we begin to educate people about honey bees and how critical they are for food production.

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    May 21 2013: I'm not sure that urban beekeeping is the answer for this because I think that instead of trying to produce more bee colonies we need to first put more efforts in researching the cause of this unknown phenomenon. One possible cause of these colony collapses is the use of a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids that Europe has recently banned in a preventative effort for the bees, but the US has claimed there is not enough evidence that these pesticides are the cause so they have not been banned. I think we need to err on the side of caution since these insects help produce the majority of the world's food and if there is any evidence that something might be causing their collapse then we should do whatever it takes to stop it from happening. Instead of considering these pesticides innocent until proven guilty I think we should encourage the government to enact a precautionary ban until we know exactly what is going on, since billions of people depend on these bees for food.

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      May 21 2013: I agree that more research must be done before we can successfully solve the problem of colony collapse. It seems very likely that there is a link between pesticide use and CCD, but colony collapses have occurred numerous times throughout the past millennium. Ireland had a high number of bee mortality in 950, 992 and 1443 and in Utah in 1903 (1). It is also interesting that there have been a large number of colony collapses in Europe where there has been less pesticide use historically.

      I think that before we introduce colonies of bees into urban centers, we must first rehabilitate existing colonies near agricultural lands. This can possibly be done by reducing monocultures and the creation of recovery zones with high-nectare plants (2). Massive changes in the biodiversity of cities must first take place before we introduce urban colonies or they too will be unsuccessful.

      (1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1892840/
      (2) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7739798.stm
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        May 21 2013: I definitely agree that major changes need to occur in agriculture to help these bee colonies, whether that will happen with the huge corporate power that food production companies maintain is up for debate.
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        May 21 2013: I totally agree with your point that the rehabilitation of colonies near agricultural centers should take priority. While the fact that the health of bees seems to improve after moving them into urban environments, that strategy has the clear side effect of eliminating one of the most prolific pollinators around. It's definitely important to think about helping the bees themselves, but I think that the more important issue here is helping the bees so that they can continue helping plants, agricultural and otherwise, proliferate.
        So as said by many other people so far, I think that moving bees away from the countryside where they are needed is the wrong approach and instead we should be focusing on understanding CCD, since so far close to nothing is known definitively.

        Edit: I just did a little more digging into the potential economic costs of CCD for farmers and found a dollar value of the crops lost from less honeybees around at $15 billion directly and $75 from indirect effects (2). This estimation was put forward in 2007 by the Secretary of Agriculture at the time, and I have to think that as this problem has worsened, that number has only gone up.

        1) http://science.time.com/2013/05/07/beepocalypse-redux-honey-bees-are-still-dying-and-we-still-dont-know-why/
        2) http://www.envirovaluation.org/2012/01/colony-collapse-disorder-market.html
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          May 21 2013: Many scientists believe that CCD is directly the result of neonicotinoid toxicity.

          We need to follow in the progressive footsteps of our European cousins and tackle this issue before it spirals out of control.

          The introduction of bees to urban environments is probably successful because there are fewer pesticides in the local environment. Bees might help with pollination in the city environment but their maximum efficiency is only achieved in open fields and large tracks of vegetation, their native grounds. [Here are sources I couldn't include in my original post due to character limits]

          European conclusion:
          European Food Safety Authority (16 January 2013) "Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for bees for the active substance clothianidin" EFSA Journal 11(1):3066

          Neonicotinoids mechanism:
          Matsuda K, Buckingham SD, Kleier D, Rauh JJ, Grauso M, and Sattelle DB (2001) Neonicotinoids: insecticides acting on insect nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Trends Pharmacol Sci 22 573-580.

          The huge risks to bees’ immune systems from these pesticides:
          Tennekes, Henk A. (2010). "The significance of the Druckrey–Küpfmüller equation for risk assessment—The toxicity of neonicotinoid insecticides to arthropods is reinforced by exposure time". Toxicology 276 (1): 1–4. doi:10.1016/j.tox.2010.07.005. PMID 20803795.

          The effect of neonicotinoids on bee memory: (The bees forget were the hive is and die)
          Williamson, Sally M.; Geraldine A. Wright (7 February 2013). "Exposure to multiple cholinergic pesticides impairs olfactory learning and memory in honeybees". Journal of Experimental Biology 216 (10): 1799. doi:10.1242/jeb.083931.
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          May 21 2013: Hi Erik,
          The original idea didn't actually intend on moving bees away from the rural areas in which they are so desperately needed, rather it was to increase the number of colonies altogether by starting new ones in urban environments. I realize that this doesn't solve the problem of CCD, but it will still alleviate some of the stressors on the total population of honey bees.
          Meanwhile, I think it is important for more research to be done on the harsh pesticides that are used in rural areas (as Ben mentioned above) and what we can be doing to reduce the effects we are having on the bees.
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      May 21 2013: Wow... I just read your post and I pretty much left the same exact comment. Great minds think alike! (or maybe we both read Reddit)

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