What Could Bee the Problem?

Recently, life for nature’s natural pollinators has been nothing short of a terrifying and detrimental nightmare.  The continuing trend of dying bees is known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  Estimates show that CCD is responsible for approximately 10 million fallen beehives, worth $2 billion in agriculture and ecological benefits over the last five years.  The most troubling news is that none of us seem to know what causes such a massive population decline to such an invaluable species.  However, recent studies by scientists at the University of Maryland provide new insight and developments on the possible cause of Colony Collapse Disorder.

In the past, researchers and scientists have hypothesized myriad explanations for the CCD phenomena.  Explanations range from mites to cellphone towers, but new data supports one hypothesis as the crux of the issue.  Maryland Researchers collected pollen from hives on the East coast and fed the pollen to a group of healthy bees.  The findings show that the test group of bees developed a serious decline in their ability to resist a parasite that causes Colony Collapse Disorder.  The pollen ingested, on average, was a mixture of nine different pesticides and fungicides that normal bees would otherwise collect and feed to their hive.  One sample of pollen collected revealed a combination of 21 different harmful chemicals of pesticides and fungicides.  The results, which were published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggested that bees exposed to the sample of collected pollen are over three times more likely to be affected by the CCD-causing parasite.

Pesticides and fungicides, once thought safe for bees, will now be completely re-evaluated.  Out of their gathered sample, UMD researchers expressed particular concern over fungicides.  They “found an increased probability in Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load”.  Finding a solution to this discovery will of course take time and innovation as halting the use of pesticides is out of the equation. Pesticide and fungicide use requires reconsideration in terms of usage, placement, and development in order to maintain a fine balance between crop protection and bee wellness.

One hopeful solution is the host of innovative Ag-Tech companies spearheading the cleantech sector.  For those looking to make their own personal impact, companies like EcoSMART produce natural herbicides, pesticides and fungicides from botanical oils for residential and commercial use.  Another strongly venture backed company is American biological pesticide producer, Agraquest, who was recently acquired by Bayer CropScience for $424 million.  This acquisition is telling of a developing trend for big corporations need to procure more sustainable agrochemical product portfolios.  It will be up to the big organizations to invest in the expanding sea of clean-agritech innovations in order to secure a sustainable and working system for agrochemicals. Only then can we start to rebuild from the damage caused by Colony Collapse Disorder.

About the blogger: Jason Steel is a rising senior at the University of Maryland and a research intern with Cleantech Group.  He is a Communication major and Spanish minor and has previously worked as a solar installer for Solar City, and interned for Suntech and ACORE. Jason has a passion for the intersection of innovation and sustainability.