Herbicides, Not Insecticides, Biggest Threat to Bees

AGFAX   By Bonnie Coblentz    December 17, 2015 

People who care about honeybees know that insecticides and pollinators are usually a bad mix, but it turns out that herbicides used to control weeds can spell even bigger trouble for bees.

Jeff Harris, bee specialist with the MSU Extension Service and Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station researcher, said herbicides destroy bee food sources.

“When farmers burn down weeds before spring planting, or people spray for goldenrod, asters and spring flowers, or when power companies spray their rights-of-way, they’re killing a lot of potential food sources for bees and wild pollinators,” he said.

Harris said the direct effect of these chemicals on bees is so much less of an issue than their loss of food supply.

“Disappearing food is on the mind of beekeepers in the state,” he said. “That is even more important to them than losses of bees to insecticides.”

Johnny Thompson, vice president of the Mississippi Beekeeping Association, is a cattle and poultry farmer in Neshoba County who has been in the bee business for the last 10 years.

“Before we got back into bees, I sprayed pastures by the barrel to kill weeds. As a cattle farmer, weeds are a nuisance,” Thompson said. “I’m trying to grow grass for the cows to eat and not weeds, but as a beekeeper, those weeds are not weeds. That’s forage for the bees.”

Today, Thompson said he uses the bush hog more than he sprays herbicides to keep the food supply for bees intact on his land.

“If you kill everything the bee has for food, you may as well go in and spray the hive directly. The bees are going to die,” he said. “All the emphasis is being put on insecticide, but the greater risk to bees are the herbicides.”

He has made management changes for the sake of his bees’ food supply, but he recognizes the tension between current agricultural management practices and pollinators’ best interests.

“When you travel through the Delta or the prairie part of the state in February, the row crop land is purple with henbit blooming. By the end of March, it’s all gone because farmers burned it down with chemicals to try to kill everything in the field before they plant,” he said.

“They burn it down early because weeds in March or early April are a reservoir for insect pests to the crops that will soon be planted,” Thompson said.

Crops in the field, especially soybeans, are great sources of bee forage, and farmers and beekeepers can coordinate to protect both of their interests. 

“We moved bees to the Delta this summer to make soybean honey,” Thompson said. “We’re working with the growers to try to put the bees in areas that are fairly protected and won’t get directly sprayed.”

But farmland is not the only place bees find food. Yards, roadsides, golf courses and power line rights-of-way are other places bees forage when plants are allowed to bloom naturally.

“We need to stop looking at them as weeds and instead look at these plants as forage,” Thompson said. “I can manage around the insecticides, but if herbicide use means there’s nothing for a bee to eat, there’s no reason to put a hive in an area.”


Bee Tongues And Flowers Reveal Evolution In Overdrive

Wired  By Gwen Pearson  September 24, 2015

Living on a mountain is hard for bees and flowers. It’s cold. There’s extreme weather. And new research has found it’s getting even harder for both flowers and bees to make a living in alpine evironments lately. Scientists compared over 40 years of mountain bumblebee and flower records on three Colorado mountains, and found major decreases in both bees and flowers. But they also found clear evidence of rapid evolution by the bees, suggesting it’s not time to give up on mountain bumble bees just yet.

Open-Source Bugs

Entomologists and botanists get teased about traveling the world, meeting interesting insects and plants, and then killing them. But it’s a morbid habit that pays off; it creates a long-term, stable record of the biological past. Museum collections may look like a creepy charnel house to outsiders, full of corpses, pins, and mothballs. Our libraries of dead things become a book of evolutionary change for future scientists to read.

Preserving organisms from taxonomic or ecological studies lets us travel back in time. “People are always interested in having their data looked at and reanalyzed in a different way, a way that they hadn’t thought about previously. That is one of the great things about having open access data,” said Dr. Nicole Miller-Struttmann, lead author on the new bumble bee study.

To investigate how flowers and bumble bees changed, a team of scientists dug through over 40 years of records. They tracked down thousands of bumble bee specimens collected on mountains in Colorado between 1966 and 1980, and compared them to bumblebees collected in the same areas between 2012 and 2014. They also used herbarium specimens of flowers collected during similar time frames, and surveyed flowers in the field.

Plants on mountains often have very narrow temperature tolerances; too much heat can reduce flowering. On one of the mountains in the study, between 1960 to 1985 only 12 percent of the years were hot enough to reduce flowering. Since 1985, 48 percent percent of years were too hot for flowers that bumblebees typically forage on.

Since 1970, the total number of flowers available for bees on the mountain study sites declined by 60 percent overall. What did that mean for bees?

flower measuring
Researchers Jessica Kettenbach and Elizabeth Hedrick monitor plant density on Niwot Ridge
Long Term Ecological Research Site, Colorado.  NICOLE MILLER-STRUTTMANN

If Gene Simmons Were a Bee

Over 95 percent of bees in the study regions between 1966 and 1980 were just two species of “long-tongued” bees. These bees specialize in flowers with a narrow, elongated tubular shape. Their long tongue means they are able to reach the nectar hidden at the bottom of a flower, and can muscle out their shorter-tongued relatives. This is an an example of coevolution, where two species reciprocally affect each other over evolutionary time.

Bees collected from 2012 to 2014 were different, though. The long-tongued species of bumble bees declined by 24 percent. At the same time, warming temperatures and changes in flowering plants allowed some lower altitude bees to live at higher mountain elevations. The entire community of bumble bees changed. Long-tongued bumble bees responded to the scarcity of flowers by becoming less selective; the range of plants they foraged on changed significantly, and included flowers with no long nectar tubes.

The scientists wondered if the bees physically changed too, and measured body length and tongue length on their historic and modern bee specimens. How do you measure a bee’s tongue? Miller-Struttmann explains: “They tuck their tongue back into their body, so they sort of fold it back up along their chin, I guess you could say. We had to rehydrate historic specimens, and then fold the tongue out, and then measure it under a microscope with calipers.”

What no one expected was that the tongues of long-tongued bees would get shorter. A lot shorter. “A 24 percent decrease in tongue length is really dramatic,” says Miller-Struttmann. “That was in 40 years, in 40 generations, I should say, because these bumblebees only have one generation a year. That’s a pretty short period of time to see such a dramatic shift.” Bumble bee bodies also got slightly smaller, but not as much as the tongues shrank. The research team did not find changes in the depth of the flowers bumble bees were visiting. The bees’ shape changed, but the flowers didn’t.

Building and maneuvering a big tongue takes energy, and bees with shorter tongues may have done better at diverting that energy into more babies. In the short term, the bumble bees seem to be hanging on. But what about longer term?

Right now bumblebees and plants they historically fed on are mismatched physiologically. The bees may not be as good a pollinator for those plants, which could cause further declines in flowers. In the long term, perhaps they will also evolve, but they’re much longer-lived species. Their generation time is decades, not yearly. Change will be slower—or may not happen at all.

Dr. David Inouye has researched flowers and alpine bees at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory for decades. He said “this study is a great example of the value of archiving data… an example of a change in bumble bees that is unexpected, and would not have been discovered without access to historical data. We have evidence from elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains that bumble bee queens of eight species have moved up 230m in altitude over about the same time span, and these kinds of changes in bumble bee communities will have interesting consequences over both ecological and evolutionary time scales.”

This study also highlights a common problem for mountain or other remote refuges—as the climate warms, the places where plants and animals thrive move slowly away from the areas we’ve designated for their conservation. By increasing areas set aside for nature, or making sure we have connections between isolated nature refuges, we can try to help bees and plants adapt to our new warmer world.

Miller-Struttmann, et al. 2015. Functional mismatch in a bumble bee pollination mutualism under climate change.http://www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.aab0868

Nicole E. Miller-Struttmann & Candace Galen. 2014. High-altitude multi-taskers: bumble bee food plant use broadens along an altitudinal productivity gradient, Oecologia: 176(4) 1033

Read at: http://www.wired.com/2015/09/flowers-bees-no-longer-n-sync/

Bee Foraging Chronically Impaired by Pesticide Exposure: Study

The following is brought to us by the American Bee Journal     July 10, 2014

A study co-authored by a University of Guelph scientist that involved fitting bumblebees with tiny radio frequency tags shows long-term exposure to a neonicotinoid pesticide hampers bees' ability to forage for pollen.

The research by Nigel Raine, a professor in Guelph's School of Environmental Sciences, and Richard Gill of Imperial College London was published July 9 in the British Ecological Society's journal Functional Ecology.

The study shows how long-term pesticide exposure affects individual bees' day-to-day behavior, including pollen collection and which flowers worker bees chose to visit.

"Bees have to learn many things about their environment, including how to collect pollen from flowers," said Raine, who holds the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation, a Canadian first.

"Exposure to this neonicotinoid pesticide seems to prevent bees from being able to learn these essential skills."

The researchers monitored bee activity using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags similar to those used by courier firms to track parcels. They tracked when individual bees left and returned to the colony, how much pollen they collected and from which flowers.

Bees from untreated colonies got better at collecting pollen as they learned to forage. But bees exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides became less successful over time at collecting pollen.

Neonicotinoid-treated colonies even sent out more foragers to try to compensate for lack of pollen from individual bees.

Besides collecting less pollen, said Raine, "the flower preferences of neonicotinoid-exposed bees were different to those of foraging bees from untreated colonies."

Raine and Gill studied the effects of two pesticides – imidacloprid, one of three neonicotinoid pesticides currently banned for use on crops attractive to bees by the European Commission, and pyrethroid (lambda cyhalothrin) – used alone or together, on the behavior of individual bumblebees from 40 colonies over four weeks.

"Although pesticide exposure has been implicated as a possible cause for bee decline, until now we had limited understanding of the risk these chemicals pose, especially how it affects natural foraging behavior," Raine said.

Neonicotinoids make up about 30 per cent of the global pesticide market. Plants grown from neonicotinoid-treated seed have the pesticide in all their tissues, including the nectar and pollen.

"If pesticides are affecting the normal behavior of individual bees, this could have serious knock-on consequences for the growth and survival of colonies," explained Raine.

The researchers suggest reform of pesticide regulations, including adding bumblebees and solitary bees to risk assessments that currently cover only honeybees.

"Bumblebees may be much more sensitive to pesticide impacts as their colonies contain a few hundred workers at most, compared to tens of thousands in a honeybee colony," Raine said.

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Read at... http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=5fd2b1aa990e63193af2a573d&id=a76fdfe404&e=cb715f1bb5

Accused of Harming Bees, Bayer Researches a Different Culprit

The New York Times   By Danny Hakim   12/11/13

MONHEIM, Germany - Bayer cares about bees. 

Or at least that’s what they tell you at the company’s Bee Care Center on its sprawling campus here between Düsseldorf and Cologne. Outside the cozy two-story building that houses the center is a whimsical yellow sculpture of a bee. Inside, the same image is fashioned into paper clips, or printed on napkins and mugs.

“Bayer is strictly committed to bee health,” said Gillian Mansfield, an official specializing in strategic messaging at the company’s Bayer CropScience division. She was sitting at the center’s semicircular coffee bar, which has a formidable espresso maker and, if you ask, homegrown Bayer honey. On the surrounding walls, bee fun facts are written in English, like “A bee can fly at roughly 16 miles an hour” or, it takes “nectar from some two million flowers in order to produce a pound of honey.” Next year, Bayer will open another Bee Care Center in Raleigh, N.C., and has not ruled out more in other parts of the world.

There is, of course, a slight caveat to all this buzzy good will.

Bayer is one of the major producers of a type of pesticide that the European Union has linked to the large-scale die-offs of honey bee populations in North America and Western Europe. They are known as neonicotinoids, a relatively new nicotine-derived class of pesticide. The pesticide was banned this year for use on many flowering crops in Europe that attract honey bees.

Bayer and two competitors, Syngenta and BASF, have disagreed vociferously with the ban, and are fighting in the European courts to overturn it...

Read more...  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/12/business/energy-environment/accused-of-harming-bees-bayer-researches-a-different-culprit.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

Take The Survey This Weekend

The Bee Informed Partnership, a joint project among numerous universities and laboratories, is a project whose aim is to help beekeepers make better management decisions and thus reduce colony losses.  To do this effectively, we need beekeepers, lots of beekeepers, to participate in our survey. We are asking you to please participate in two surveys.  Both surveys are open only from 29 March through 15 April 2013. You can learn more about the Bee Informed Partnership at beeinformed.org.

Please click on the link below or paste it into your browser to participate in the National Winter Loss and Management Survey:


The winter loss survey should take less than 5 minutes and the management survey should take less than 20 minutes.

The purpose of the Bee Informed Partnership is to use beekeepers' real world experiences to help solve beekeepers' real world problems. We will use the data generated from these two surveys to help you decide which management practices are best for beekeepers like you, who live where you do and have operations similar to yours.  For this to work, we need as many participants as possible...so please take the time to fill out the questionnaire and SEND THIS EMAIL TO ALL THE BEEKEEPERS YOU KNOW asking them to fill out these questionnaires too.

You can see what type of results we will generate by visiting the Beeinformed.org website and browsing through our results section. Currently we are in the process of posting last year’s management results, so visit the site often to see these results as they are posted and discussed in our BLOG section.

Depending on the number of participants we hope to have the results from this year’s survey broken down by region and should have those results posted within months of the survey close date now that we have built the infrastructure needed to automate report generation.  

Should you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact us at askbeeinformed@gmail.com or call us at 443.296.2470.

You can learn more about the Bee Informed Partnership at beeinformed.org.