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12 April 2010

What bee the problem?

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A University of Minnesota-backed research team has embarked on a three-year, $500,000 study to determine how changing landscape in North Dakota’s prairie pothole region affects the health of bees and their ability to pollinate crops nationwide

It’s a pressing issue, and not just because North Dakota’s honey production — perennially tops in the nation — depends on robust bee colonies.

“Our bees are in trouble,” said Marla Spivak, a professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota and the lead researcher. “They are in poor health nationwide,” and numbers have declined sharply.

Many factors have cut deeply into bee populations over the past several years, affecting both native bees and honeybees, which are not native to the U.S. The mysterious and widespread collapse of colonies — documented in a 2007 PBS series “Silence of the Bees” — has put at risk nearly 100 crops that are dependent on bee pollination.

Largely because of changes in land use, “There aren’t enough flowers for bees, which affects their nutrition,” Spivak said. “And some of the flowers out there are contaminated with pesticides, which poisons bees and leaves them nutritionally compromised.”

Bees also have their own diseases and parasites, in particular a mite called the Varroa destructor, blamed for widespread “bee colony collapse” in the U.S. and elsewhere.


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