Why are Niagara's bees dying?

Today's Toronto Star story about huge loses of bees in the Niagara region is attached.


Why are Niagara's bees dying?

TheStar.com - Business - Why are Niagara's bees dying? Experts called in to probe mysterious, costly threat to region's fruit industry April 17, 2007 dana flavelle business reporter

The sudden unexplained loss of millions of bees in the Niagara region – up to 90 per cent in some commercial colonies – has prompted Ontario beekeepers to ask experts at the University of Guelph to investigate.

The move comes amid the mysterious disappearance of millions of bees in the U.S., in a phenomenon so unusual that it has spawned a new phrase – "Colony Collapse Disorder."

In Canada, the problem seems to be confined so far to the Niagara region but is still early days for beekeepers in the West, who won't know the extent of the damage until they unwrap their hives later this month.

"About 80 or 90 per cent of the beekeepers in the Niagara region have had substantial losses," George Dubanow, president of the Niagara Beekeepers Association, said in an interview yesterday.

"This number is unparalleled. A typical winter loss is between 10 and 20 per cent."

That has some Niagara region fruit growers worried in the weeks leading up to the May pollination period because bees don't just make honey. They also play a vital role in pollinating everything from cherries to pear trees in Ontario, hybrid canola in Western Canada and blueberries in New Brunswick.

As much as a third of the food we eat requires bee pollination, according to experts. Bee pollination is valued at $1 billion in Canada.

Theories about why the bees are dying run the gamut from pesticides to poor weather and even radio waves from cell phone transmission towers.

Experts in Canada are reluctant to blame "Colony Collapse Disorder" for what's happened so far in Niagara.

"At this point we haven't seen the type of die-offs we're seeing in the U.S. although we're all certainly very concerned about it, said Steve Pernal, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, in northern Alberta.

Officials in Ontario blame poor weather conditions last fall and the Varroa Destructor mite, a deadly parasite that first showed up in the early '90s.

"The reason I say that is you can almost draw a line from St. Thomas to the south side of Hamilton. Below that they've lost 70 per cent of their bees with some individuals losing 100 per cent. North of that line, thank goodness, the bees are quite normal," explained Doug McRory, an apiarist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

Winter die-offs aren't unusual for beekeepers. And while 20 per cent is the average, sometimes an individual beekeeper's losses will be much higher, experts said.

However, the U.S. has now received reports from 24 states citing widespread losses. And more worrisome is the unexplained disappearance of the adult bees, a report to Congress two weeks ago stated.

It's as if the bees flew away and never came back, highly uncharacteristic behaviour, the report by U.S. agriculture analyst Renee Johnson said.

"The odds are some neurotoxin is what's causing it," said David VanderDussen, a beekeeper in Frankford, near Trenton, whose company NOD Apiary Products Ltd. recently won a provincial award for developing an environmentally friendly mite repellent.

Len Troup, a fruit grower in Jordan Station who also chairs the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers, says farmers in the area starting renting commercial bees to pollinate the cherry and pear crops, starting around mid-May.

Niagara beekeepers say the problem in the U.S. is driving up the price of Queen Bees imported from New Zealand to replenish the hives.



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April 2007

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