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WP: Global Warming Is Killing Off The Bees

From those keepers of the faith at the Washington Post:

Weather May Account for Reduced Honey Crop

By Jane Black
Monday, September 10, 2007; A05

That the 2007 honey crop has been disappointing won’t surprise anyone who has picked up the newspaper in recent months. Since early spring, colony collapse disorder (CCD), a disease that causes honeybees to suddenly, mysteriously disappear from their hives, has made headlines around the world. Without honeybees to pollinate, experts warn that one-third of the food supply — from apples and peaches to cucumbers and squash — is at risk.

It’s a frightening prospect. And though signs of CCD were first reported in the United States and most cases have been reported here, European beekeepers have recently observed a similar phenomenon, and possible cases have been reported in Taiwan.

Scientists and beekeepers have floated a variety of theories for the collapses — from stress caused when commercial beekeepers move their hives long distances to disorientation caused by cellphone radiation. Last week, the journal Science published a report that found a new virus, Israeli acute paralysis virus, appeared to be associated with CCD.

But some experts say the more likely reason for this year’s weak honey crop, which the NationalHoney Board says is on track to be smaller than last year’s below-par 155 million pounds, is something much more obvious: the weather. In the South, drought and wildfires have prevented flowers from blooming. In the Midwest, a late freeze brought nectar flows in many areas almost to a halt. And in California, the country’s No. 2 honey producer, coastal beekeepers reported that there were almost no flowering plants in July. The bees were fed sugar water to keep them from starving.

It’s more weather than CCD,” said Ted Dennard, president of the Savannah Bee Company, which sells specialty honeys. “The reports I’m getting is that everywhere is under-producing. Tupelo was somewhere between 25 percent and 50 percent of normal production, and there’s not a drop of star thistle in Idaho.”

Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common across the globe, numerous studies suggest. That’s why new research by Wayne Esaias, a Maryland biological oceanographer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who keeps bees as a hobby, has piqued enormous interest among bee experts and honey lovers. By taking simple measurements on when his bees started and stopped collecting nectar near his home in Highland, Esaias has shown that flowers there are blooming three weeks earlier than they did in 1992 and a month before they did in 1970. (The research, which has not yet been published, is posted at http://tinyurl.com/yukvl7.)

Even with a limited data set, it’s a potentially significant climate shift. If backyard beekeepers collected similar data at sites across the country, the results could offer clues about how to manage bee colonies to maximize honey production and, potentially, help keep bees healthy enough to resist diseases, such as the mysterious CCD.

“What this has demonstrated is that with simple measurements, you can bring all the information together and get a sense of the bigger picture,” said Dewey Caron, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. “I’m kind of ashamed I didn’t think of it first.” …

Esaias, though, is the first to admit that it took him a long time — 15 years — to see that there might be a useful connection between his professional knowledge of weather and climate and his after-work beekeeping hobby…

In early 2006, Esaias decided to look for patterns. He dug up spotty records from 1922, 1923 and 1957 on when flowers first bloomed in the Washington area, and good, consistent ones from the Smithsonian beginning in 1970. His analysis showed that the plants were blooming a full month earlier now than they had been in 1970. There had been no apparent change between 1922 and 1970.

Esaias stresses that real climate analysis requires long, continuous records, so it’s possible this is normal weather variability. But his hypothesis is that the change is the result of the area’s rapid urbanization. As more buildings and roads are built, the temperature climbs and plants bloom earlier

To find out what that might be, Esaias has applied for NASA funding that would allow him to overlay his data with information from NASA satellites that chart weather and vegetation patterns

“I’m wondering if there’s a way we could look at when the plants produce nectar, and use the satellite data and ecosystem models so we’re in a better position to understand how climate change will affect pollination.”

So are other entomologists, such as Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California at Davis. Mussen believes the reason bees got “whacked” by CCD is malnutrition, which is directly connected to the weather. If honeybees cannot collect enough nectar to feed themselves, they won’t have the strength to resist disease.

“If we’re headed into rougher weather, as it appears we are, we’ll have more difficulties with our bees,” Mussen said. “It won’t matter if you’re a backyard beekeeper or someone with 10,000 colonies.”

Both types of beekeepers will have the opportunity to contribute if Esaias’s research moves forward.

“This is a perfect example of how citizen science can work,” said the University of Delaware’s Caron. “Lots of people can come in and contribute small amounts of data. You get immediate feedback on your bees and the satisfaction that you are contributing to a larger picture.”

These “researchers” need to coordinate better.

Just two days ago it was announced that a virus was the cause of he sudden dying off of so many honeybees. But now we have this.

Though they valiantly try to salvage their pet theory by positing that global warming has caused the bees to be susceptible to CCD in the first place.

But note that honey production went down 11% in one year (2005-2006) — according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service:

United States Honey Production Down 11 Percent

Released February 28, 2007

Honey production in 2006 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 155 million pounds, down 11 percent from 2005. There were 2.39 million colonies producing honey in 2006, down 1 percent from 2005. Yield per colony averaged 64.7 pounds, down 11 percent from the 72.4 pounds in 2005.

Colonies which produced honey in more than one State were counted in each State where the honey was produced, therefore yields per colony may be understated. Colonies were not included if honey was not harvested. Producer honey stocks were 60.5 million pounds on December 15, 2006, down 3 percent from a year earlier. Stocks held by producers exclude stocks held under the commodity loan program…

That is some fast-acting global warming.

And can anyone explain why flowers blooming earlier would cut down on honey production? Wouldn’t it just move it up? Isn’t it warm for the honey bees, too?

And since when did warmer weather cause a shorter growing or flowering season?

Of course this is errant nonsense. But a great way for an oceanographer to get grant money from the taxpayer while pursuing a pleasant hobby.

Right, Mr. Esaias?

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, September 10th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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