Cool Things About Bees That Have Nothing To Do With The Beepocalypse

 greenpeaceblogs.org  By Jason Schwartz    June 18, 2014

It’s National Pollinator Week, seven days the US government sets aside to honor the butterflies, birds, beetles, and bats that keep a lot of our plants (and food supply) going. But if you’ve been paying even the most casual attention, you probably know that that bees, particularly honeybees, are in some serious trouble.

Colony Collapse Disorder is decimating bee populations in the U.S. and Europe. For years, scientists have been trying to understand its causes. But a recent study by Harvard scientists confirms what many in the EU have already taken to heart: a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids are, in large part, to blame.

While we’re super concerned about bees and believe, like any sensible people, that their problems are our problems, we’re not here to talk about Colony Collapse Disorder right now. We think it’s a bummer that so much of the press around bees is about catastrophe, pesticides, mites, viruses, and doom and gloom, while the other great discoveries around bees — which seem to pop up constantly — get little fanfare. So here’s a little sampling, just from the past couple months.

Small brain, big maps

Animal pollinators like birds and butterflies use the sun as a navigational tool, sort of like a compass. Mammals, on the other hand, tend to create mental maps using landmarks. Recent research is showing that despite their tiny brains, bees may actually do both, creating cognitive maps using memorized ‘landscape snapshots’ to find their way home, at times when the sun can’t be relied upon. 

Bees are better than water

Researchers in California found that neither lack of fertilizer nor insufficient watering were as damaging to almond yields than a lack of bees and other wild pollinators. In other words, the presence of bees is more important to crop yields than fertilizer and sufficient watering(WHAT?!) As climate change sends us down a path of food insecurity, preserving bee populations is that much more urgent.

Berries are better with bees

Pollination by bees doesn’t just make more fruit, it makes better fruit.Researchers found that strawberries pollinated by bees were redder, better formed, heavier, firmer, and had better sugar-acid ratios (a marker of flavor) than self-or-wind pollinated strawberries. Another study found similar results when diverse bee species visited their blueberry plants. The economic implications of better berries with longer shelf lives are self-evident, but for most of us, that’s not the point, is it? 

Get your wag on

The waggle dance is how honey bees show hivemates the direction and distance of the good stuff. A recent study shows the waggling bees tend to urge their peers toward nature reserves and rural areas that are managed for agri-ecological diversity. Heavily managed, conventionally-farmed areas are low on bees priority list, even when they house nectar rich flowers. Why? Well don’t they sound boring to you too? 

Buzzed Bees

A recent study showed that bees experience improved long-term memory (along with a predictable mild high) when visiting plants who provide them with caffeine. The caffeine acts as a kind of reward, perhaps provoking bees to remember where they found it. The report also found that bees like to visit those plants in the morning and again at 3pm, when the workday feels like it’s never going to end. Actually that last part is me. 

Rambling men

Neotropical orchid bees, which evolved to depend on year-round warm and moist habitats, are really at risk, as climate change and habitat loss from deforestation have taken a toll on their homes. Fortunately for their continued survival, a sexual variation in orchid bees that has males traveling up to 7km a day means that genetic variation and vitality may be maintained, across fragmented habitats. It’s probably best not to ask where those guys have been though, unless you want to hear bad excuses. They may travel far and use their mental maps to get home, but scientists are still pretty sure bees are bad liars. 

Stuff like this comes out in science journals all the time. There are thousands of scientists all over the world whose job is to figure out new things about bees. That’s their job. Where did I go wrong?

During this National Pollinator week, can we expect legislation from the White House and President Obama about protecting our bees and pollinators? Might we finally see legislation to limit the use of neo-nicotinoids?

We’re not holding our breath, but we hope so.

Read at... http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2014/06/18/national-pollinator-week-six-bee-studies-arent-beepocalypse/?utm_source=gpusafb&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=bees

The New Harvard Study on Neonics, May 2014

Scientific Beekeeping    By Randy Oliver   May 16, 2014

The New “Harvard Study” on neonics, May 2014

Dr. Lu of Harvard Medical School, who has no background with honey bees, attempted to run an experiment in 2012 (The 2012 Harvard Study) that would “prove” that the seed treatment of corn put so much imidacloprid into high fructose corn syrup that the feeding of such was the cause of CCD.  Although both the notion and the way in which the “study” was run were preposterous, and were dismissed by all serious bee researchers, it nevertheless got a lot of press.

Thoroughly chastised by the bee research community for his amateurish attempt to perform bee research, Dr. Lu recently released yet anther study, again in a journal practicing questionable peer review.

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Update: May 16, 2014

My criticisms of Dr. Lu’s studies have raised a great deal of interest.  I’d like to explain my position.  As a beekeeper who makes his living from having healthy colonies of bees, I am acutely interested in the causes of colony morbidity and mortality.  Without a doubt, pesticides can cause colony morbidity or mortality, which I’ve covered in my Sick Bees series of articles (e.g., The Slaughter of the Innocents).  The neonicotinoid class of insecticides are no exception, and I’ve detailed problems associated with them in The Neonicotinoids–Trying to Make Sense of the Science.  But I’ve also done on-the-ground reality checking on the effects of neonics upon those bees and beekeepers at Ground Zero of neonicotinoid use in The Extinction of the Honey Bee.  Although I initially suspected that neonicotinoids may have been a likely cause of Colony Collapse, my extensive research does not support that hypothesis.

I’ve also run (or participated in) a number of studies on the actual causes of colony collapse, and have published a widely-accepted model of its progression (A Model of Colony Collapse).  Any of several factors  may be involved in colony collapse, including pesticides.  In short, sudden colony depopulation is typically due to the troika of varroa, viruses, and nosema, exacerbated by poor nutrition, beekeeper-applied miticides, and chilling–which may...

Read more... http://scientificbeekeeping.com/news-and-blogs-page/

(Note from LACBA Secretary, Stacy McKenna: "Actually, the article is pretty good, particularly in that it points out that the research study is pretty crappy. The above is Randy Oliver's take on the "research".")