Harvard research and Bayer at odds about bee deaths
“Further, although other studies have suggested that CCD-related mortality in honey bee colonies may come from bees’ reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, the new study found that bees in the hives exhibiting CCD had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as a group of control hives, most of which survived the winter. This finding suggests that the neonicotinoids are causing some other kind of biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to CCD,” according to the news release announcing the study results.
What the agriculture industry and Lu agrees on is that significant losses of honey bees cannot continue since bees are prime pollinators of roughly one-third of all crops worldwide. Experts have and are considering a number of possible causes, including pathogen infestation, beekeeping practices, and pesticide exposure.
Lu and his co-authors from the Worcester County Beekeepers Association studied the health of 18 bee colonies in three locations in central Massachusetts from October 2012 through April 2013. At each location, the researchers separated six colonies into three groups—one treated with imidacloprid, one with clothianidin, and one untreated. (As noted by Bayer, the amount of neonicotinoids feed the bees should have resulted in death and/or a CCD situation.) By April 2013, 6 out of 12 of the neonicotinoid-treated colonies were lost, with abandoned hives that are typical of CCD. Showing some of the diverse problems with honey bee mortality, one of the control colonies was lost—thousands of dead bees were found inside the hive—with what appeared to be symptoms of a common intestinal parasite called Nosema ceranae.
Lu referred back to the 2012 study in noting that mortality found in the 2012 study was even higher than the 2013 study results, and he suggested that the central Massachusetts winter of 2012, which was particularly cold and prolonged, has lead the research group to speculate that colder temperatures and the insecticide combination can play a role in the severity of CCD
Even though Lu claims to have demonstrated the validity of the association between neonicotinoids and CCD, he too sees the need for further research. Funding for the study came from Wells Fargo Foundation and the Breck Fund at the Harvard University Center for the Environment.
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