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Molly O'Connor

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Where would you place Colony Collapse Disorder in relation to the many other problems facing our society?

Honeybees are responsible for pollinating one out of every three bites of food we consume. They pollinate more than 90% of the fruits and vegetables we eat, resulting in a net input of 36 billion dollars annually to the global economy. In the winter of 2006, a strange phenomenon occurred within honeybee populations in the United States. Without any warning, millions of honeybees disappeared from their hives. No bee carcasses were found, and it was observed that only worker bees were disappearing. Worker bees are responsible for collecting pollen, nectar, raising brood, and other essential hive functions. This loss of worker honeybees resulted in unstable honeybee hives, and led to the most serious die-off of honeybee colonies across the country recorded to date. Scientists have dubbed this occurrence Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is still occurring to this day. It is likely that multiple stresses are causing the collapse of honeybee colonies globally. It is widely believed that honeybees are the “canary in the coal mine” for our environment, and that the disappearance of the honeybee is a sign that our global ecosystem is in peril.

Where would you place Colony Collapse Disorder in relation to the many other problems facing our society? What tools, approaches, and collaborations are required to “get the ball rolling” and lay the groundwork for solving this issue?


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    Mar 14 2012: The impact of Colony Collapse Disorder is quite vast and potentially can bring a world of destruction to not only the US, but also the rest of the world. But I'm quite curious as to the basic evolutionary principles behind this event. We have lots of agriculture that requires pollination from European Honeybees, but there are a variety of other bee species that exist. If, god forbid, we lost all Apis mellifera, wouldn't solitary bees and other bee species thrive from the empty niche that is created?
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      Mar 14 2012: It's definitely something to consider. If there were to be a vacancy in pollination from the loss of the honey bees, would something else step in to meet the need for pollination, be it mason bees, or hummingbirds, flies, bats, etc.? I know from watching an episode of Nature called Silence of the Bees, that in China they experienced a loss of honey bees that were pollinating their pear trees and now those trees are hand pollinated by humans. It's a rather lengthy process of collecting the pollen, drying it for 2 days and then returning with chicken feathers and using those as a paintbrush to apply the pollen back to the flowers.


      Here's a link to the episode.
    • Mar 14 2012: I agree that when a species does go to extinction the open niche that is left behind will quickly be filled. In some cases the species that fills the gap will be able to preform very similarly as the extinct species and keep the social structure running smoothly. However if there is not a species that can fill the niche with similar characteristics then this will have ripple effects through the whole community. Community structure is highly dependent of all of the organisms within it and their interactions. If one link to the whole structure is weakened the whole structure will shift to accommodate the difference. The entire bee community is a fundamental aspect to the basis of many higher beings lifestyles. As Molly opened the conversations with these bee populations are responsible for one of every three bites of food we take. This is huge. Perhaps our focus on climate change should be more specific to the effects it has on the foundation organisms, such as the bees.
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      Mar 14 2012: CCD happens so quickly, could other species respond quickly enough to fill the pollination gap in time to meet the needs of 7 billion hungry humans? I think not.

      Other species of bee, such as the bumble bee, does not over winter as a colony - only the Queen overwinters and lays a new generation each spring - colony building takes time to reach productivity - thus bumble bees would miss early flowering plant species such as cherry and apple. The value of the honeybee is their ability to overwinter as a colony and, therefore, respond in spring quickly.
    • Mar 14 2012: This is certainly a possibility Rishi, however we have to consider the time span when new niches are opened up. In the realm of evolution, new niches for a particular species rarely crop up; They can occur if the extinction of another population occurs (such as your example of losing Apis. Melifera), however they can also occur during foundation events when a species enters a new habitat for the first time.

      Needles to say, neither of these events happen often and, although evolution proceeds comparatively rapidly during foundation events we are still talking about hundreds if not thousands (if not much more) of years for a species to adapt and fulfill a niche effectively. Meanwhile the economic losses of losing effective pollinators such as Apis. Melifera would be felt immediately.
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        Mar 15 2012: That helps put this more into perspective Tony, however, I really want to think about the positive possibilities of such an outcome. Although it will be devastating in the short term, is their any way we can learn from this situation? Perhaps such of a disaster like this may encourage the transition away from a monoculture based agriculture, promote variety among our diet. This is definitely a tragedy upon our hands, but since we are limited in our ability to save these bees, are their other measures we can take to reduce the impact of their loss? The episode on how China copes with the lack of pollination shows human populated plants, although the act is labor intensive this creates jobs. What other measure should we be taking besides trying to save the bees?
        • Mar 15 2012: Rishi, I was truly thinking along the same lines of how this may become a positive in creating more jobs. As my thought was underway though, I thought, is the creation of more jobs more important than saving our ecosystem? Instantaneously, I shut down that very capitalistic driven thought of mine but, I can see many people taking advantage of the current economic situation and implanting thoughts such as the disappearance of bees being a positive, as it would create more jobs, for personal gains.
        • Mar 15 2012: Rishi, you bring up some interesting points that look at this in a more realistic manner. Since at this point and time we don't necessarily know what to do about the situation, maybe the most important thing that we can do is learn something from this situation instead of wallowing in fear and not accepting the notion of change. Perhaps this will show us the dangers of relying solely on one species and lead us to construct our diets around a more biodiverse cast of food-players. Or maybe new species will even come to fill the newly opened niches and spur the evolution of new species of food plants that end up providing an unimaginable wealth of nutrition, who knows. I think that sometimes the notion of preserving a snapshot of the Earth without regards to the evolutionary plasticity that all organisms experience can be somewhat dangerous. While it can definitely "suck" for something that we're so used to to not exist anymore, I think sometimes we are held back by these emotional connections to familiarity that we have instead of being open-minded to the near-infinite array of possibilities that the future can hold for this planet.

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