by Michael McCarthy
10 March 2011
collapse, once limited to Europe and America,
is now being seen in
Asia and Africa
The mysterious collapse of honey-bee
colonies is becoming a global phenomenon, scientists working for the
United Nations have revealed.
Declines in managed bee colonies, seen increasingly in Europe and
the US in the past decade, are also now being observed in China and
Japan and there are the first signs of African collapses from Egypt,
according to the report from the United Nations Environment
The authors, who include some of the world's leading honey-bee
experts, issue a stark warning about the disappearance of bees,
which are increasingly important as crop pollinators around the
globe. Without profound changes to the way human beings manage the
planet, they say, declines in pollinators needed to feed a growing
global population are likely to continue.
The scientists warn that a number of
factors may now be coming together to hit bee colonies around the
world, ranging from declines in flowering plants and the use of
damaging insecticides, to the worldwide spread of pests and air
They call for farmers and landowners to
be offered incentives to restore pollinator-friendly habitats,
including key flowering plants near crop-producing fields and stress
that more care needs to be taken in the choice, timing and
insecticides and other chemicals.
While managed hives can be moved out of
"wild populations (of pollinators)
are completely vulnerable", says the report.
"The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets,
including pollinators, will in part define our collective future
in the 21st century," said Achim Steiner,
Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.
"The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide
cent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.
"Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st
century they have the technological prowess to be independent of
"Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less,
dependent on nature's services in a world of close to seven
Declines in bee colonies date back to
the mid 1960s in Europe, but have accelerated since 1998, while in
North America, losses of colonies since 2004 have left the continent
with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the past 50
years, says the report.
Now Chinese beekeepers have recently,
"faced several inexplicable and
complex symptoms of colony losses in both species", the report
And it has been reported elsewhere that
some Chinese farmers have had to resort to pollinating fruit trees
by hand because of the lack of insects.
Furthermore, a quarter of beekeepers in Japan "have recently been
confronted with sudden losses of their bee colonies", while in
Africa, beekeepers along the Egyptian Nile have been reporting signs
of "colony collapse disorder" - although to date there are no other
confirmed reports from the rest of the continent.
The report lists a number of factors which may be coming together to
cause the decline and they include:
Habitat degradation, including
the loss of flowering plant species that provide food for
Some insecticides, including the
so-called "systemic" insecticides which can migrate to the
entire plant as it grows and be taken in by bees in nectar
Parasites and pests, such as the
Air pollution, which may be
interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering
plants and thus food - scents that could travel more than
800 meters in the 1800s now reach less than 200 meters from
"The transformation of the
countryside and rural areas in the past half-century or so has
triggered a decline in wild-living bees and other pollinators,"
said one of the lead authors, Dr Peter Neumann of the
"Society is increasingly investing in 'industrial-scale' hives
and managed colonies to make up the shortfall and going so far
as to truck bees around to farms and fields in order to maintain
our food supplies.
"A variety of factors are making these man-made colonies
vulnerable to decline and collapse. We need to get smarter about
how we manage these hives, but perhaps more importantly, we need
to better manage the landscape beyond, in order to recover wild