For thousands of years, honey bees have been the essential link between a bountiful harvest of specialty crops and disaster. Today, the industry is responsible for pollinating 90 different kinds of fruits, vegetables and nuts. Beekeepers are a nomadic bunch, moving their hives around the country on flatbed trucks. But in 2006, large numbers of bee colonies began to die off for no apparent reason. The devastation raised the eyebrows of both industry and government experts alike. Still perplexed by the problem, USDA scientists are in the middle of a full-scale investigation. This week, honey bee experts met to discuss what they know as well as what they don't.
Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, was the center of attention during this week's International Pollinator Symposium at Iowa State University.
National and international experts on pollination spent much of the week examining theories and studies on the devastating effects of CCD.
The mysterious ailment ravaging bee colonies throughout North America is still unknown even to top experts.
Since bees pollinate much of America's specialty crops, like almonds and strawberries, experts are concerned about the economic impact of CCD.
Robert Danka, USDA-ARS: "Honey bees are a workhorse of pollination for American agriculture. The last estimation is that bees contribute $15 billion to U.S. agriculture."
In an effort to explain CCD, researchers from Penn State University and USDA have zeroed in on a series of possibilities including transportation stress on bee colonies, parasite infestation, chemical pesticides, and unknown pathogens. Many of these issues have threatened bee colonies for years.
Dr. Diana Cox-Foster, Professor Penn State University: "My underlying best guess now is that we've somehow brought a new pathogen into play…"
While unknown pathogens may be a root cause of CCD, pollination experts declined to set a timeline for any definitive solution. And have thoroughly rejected what they call "outlandish" claims that cell phone usage or magnetic fields have any life-threatening affect on bee colonies.