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Healthier pollinators: reducing the threats to Europe’s bees

The sudden, widespread death of bee populations in Europe and around the world is one of the most perplexing environmental mysteries of this century. In 2007, entire colonies of honey bees began to abruptly disappear, first in the US, then in Europe.

 
 
BEE DOC and STEP PROJECT Logos
BEE DOC and STEP PROJECT Logos
PRLog - Feb. 21, 2012 - BIRKIRKARA, Malta -- The closely knit international bee community remains stumped by the losses, known as "colony collapse disorder." Up to half of the bees in France*  were lost, and about a fourth died in Germany**. Concerned about long-term harm to food supplies and the environment, the European Union is taking numerous steps to prevent the crisis from deepening.

In November 2011, the European Parliament voted to call for stronger action to protect Europe's bees – including more research funding, better warning labels on pesticides, and incentives for drug companies to develop medicines to treat bee diseases.

Among the EU-funded research initiatives currently underway is “BEE DOC”, a collaboration of 11 universities working to diagnose and prevent bee diseases, and to develop treatments to combat parasites and diseases that rely less on chemicals. Additionally, the EU’s “STEP” project (Status and Trends of European Pollinators) is a wide-ranging initiative that is examining the threats to wild and managed bees, as well as the crops and wild flowers they pollinate, and developing methods to protect all European pollinators.

For Europe, the crisis has huge financial and environmental implications. Three-fourths of the continent’s food production and an estimated 84 percent of plant species depend on pollination by bees***. And every year the EU produces about 200,000 tons of honey****.

Insect pollinators in Europe are estimated to be worth more than €14.2 billion in their contribution to agriculture. It is wild pollinators, such as bumblebees and hoverflies, and not honeybees, that provide the majority of pollination services to European agriculture.

After years of speculation, possible explanations for colony collapse disorder are beginning to emerge. In 2011, French researchers found that bees infected with a recently discovered parasite died when exposed to even very small amounts of pesticides. The combined effects of parasites, viruses and fungi have also been identified as possible causes.

Such breakthroughs are welcome news to beekeepers like Jane Moseley, whose three hives behind her home north of London hold up to 180,000 bees. Every week, she has to check the honeycombs for diseases, parasites and the colony’s overall health.

“As beekeepers, we have to be aware of a lot of factors. There are so many different threats,” said Moseley, who is also the General Secretary of the British Beekeepers Association. “We’re on red alert.”

Beekeepers and researchers are doing their part, but how can non-beekeepers help? “Even if you live in a city, little things can make a big difference – like planting flowers rich in nectar and pollen on your balcony,” said Moseley. “You don’t have to become a beekeeper to become a keeper of bees.”

The website for “BEE DOC” can be found at http://www.bee-doc.eu while the website for “STEP” can be found at http://www.step-project.net.

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* http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id...

** http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,473166,00.html

*** http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=REPORT&reference=A7-2011-0359&language=EN

**** http://www.theparliament.com/latest-news/article/newsarticle/bee-warned/

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