It is estimated by experts that the U.S. honeybee industry is responsible for pollinating almost $15 billion worth of crops each year. This important little bee is an essential part of Florida’s precious ecosystem. Much of the food we eat depends on the health and vitality of these little honeybees. That is why the discovery of an illness within many hives called Colony Collapse Disorder has become so troubling to the agriculture community. University of Florida honeybee researcher Jamie Ellis, however, has begun an examination that may provide some much-needed answers.
In the year 2006, many widespread honeybee die-offs began to be reported around the United States. Colony Collapse Disorder was determined to be the cause of the massive losses. The disorder causes the bees to abandon their hives, become gravely ill and then die. Many factors have since been studied to find a solution to this serious problem. Issues such as chemicals, pathogens, natural enemies, and environmental factors have been focused on as potential contributing causes.
One of the most recent studies done by Jamie Ellis’ lab is to subject immature bees to various chemicals used during the agriculture and beekeeping processes. Included in the testing were two fungicides, two herbicides, and five insecticides. Varroa mites were also introduced to the bees, which has been known to cause colonies to deteriorate. Using standard experimentation procedures, a control group of bees was exposed to nothing, another group was subjected to only chemicals, and the final group was given a combination of chemicals and mites.
While no major effects were found when subjecting the bees to some types of chemicals, a fungicide that had previously been thought to have no effect on the bees was discovered to be influential. The fungicide, which is commonly thought to be non-toxic to the bees, was revealed to have an evident effect on the larvae. Ellis states, “The data suggest that fungicides are not innocuous to bees.” These findings are a giant first step in making sure these honeybees continue to do the work that is critical for our state’s food production. Just as many trees and plants must be protected from harm, these little workers also need to be cared for and protected.
This is by no means the end of the story for Ellis and his researchers. They will continue their search for a definitive cause by studying the bees on an individual basis. The hope is that groundbreaking procedure will open a whole new field of answers that will protect these essential insects.
article by RYAN WALLS