Home > Strange Events > Powdermill researchers to study ‘alarming’ decline of bees

Powdermill researchers to study ‘alarming’ decline of bees

January 24, 2011

By Rick Wills

As four previously abundant bumblebee species near extinction in the United States, it is becoming clear how little is known about native bees — which experts say often are more efficient at pollinating some crops than honeybees.

The Powdermill Nature Reserve in Westmoreland County, part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, plans to take a hard look at native bees.

“There are 20,000 species of bees in the world, and we know almost nothing about native pollinators,” said John Wenzel, director of the Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management, the second of five Powdermill centers that opened recently. “We have only scratched the surface.”

A Penn State study released last month confirmed agriculturally important bumblebees are not just disappearing here but worldwide. Researchers called the findings “alarming.”

“The disappearance of these species happened very quickly, and no one really knows why,” Wenzell said.

The study found that native pollinators, like wild bees and wasps, are infected by the same viral diseases as honeybees and that these viruses are transmitted via pollen.

“This may not be directly related to colony collapse but is related to the bigger issue of pollinator health,” said Dennis van Engelsdorp, a senior research associate at Penn State. “It is just another indication that those populations are under threat, which is a big concern.”

Colony Collapse Disorder, identified in late 2006, killed 20 percent to 40 percent of the nation’s honeybees over each subsequent winter. The syndrome has stumped most researchers, who have linked it to a mix of viruses and possibly pesticides.

At stake are the $15 billion worth of U.S. crops that honeybees pollinate each year. The roughly 90 crops that rely on bees include asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, citrus fruits, peaches, blueberries, strawberries and melons.

Honeybees were originally domesticated because to make honey and wax, Wenzel said.

“We use honeybees for pollination because we can manage them. But many crops are better pollinated by bumblebees,” he said.

%d bloggers like this: