Friday, October 15, 2010

Putting Honey Bees Into Proper Perspective

There are a lot of people who make careers as gloom prognosticators of "our end" caused by (pick one) spiritual apathy, CO2 gas, exhausted resource, over-population, greed, HIV, peak oil, right wing Christian militias, teenage sexual promiscuity, this generation's moral decadence, rock & roll, etc.

Here's a post by my favourite ant researcher, Alex Wild, who normally quietly spends his time photographing ants and entertaining his blog readers with endless details about ants. But some mis-guided "green" who is worried that CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) means the end of all bees, has got him riled up:
Honey bees are lovely creatures. I’m rather fond of them, and for that reason I keep a couple hives and teach a beekeeping class at the University.

But I’m not so fond that I can stomach this sort of meaningless new-agey crap:
Bees are not just commercial pollinators. They are intrinsic to the ever-unfolding miracle of nature. Sometimes in the summer I go out to the blackberry patch in our front yard, and watch the bees. They remain endlessly fascinating to me. And yet, if CCD isn’t halted, nobody will be going out to watch bees. A massive die-off will change the face of nature, and will be one more devastating insult to the global biosphere.
If gloom-and-doom commentators are correct, the Americas must once have looked like this:

An artist's depiction of the American landscape, prior to the introduction of European honey bees in 1622.

The honey bee was brought to our continent by European settlers in the 1600′s. Before then, our ecosystems functioned with several thousand species of native bees. Many of which are still around. You might know them as bumble bees, mining bees, leafcutting bees, and others.

Colony Collapse Disorder -- which affects only honey bees -- is a serious problem. Many fruit & nut crops depend on honey bee pollination. But the loss of a third of honey bee colonies is primarily a concern for agricultural interests. Our ecosystems are not going to unravel just because a single imported species gets less common.
I'm convinced that the decline of educational standards and the abysmal ignorance of science in the US is creating the popularity of doom-and-gloom charlatans. A little historical knowledge, a little science, and a good dose of common sense will usually dispell the gloom that one of these snake-oil salesmen is trying to seduce you with.

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