Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony collapse is characterised by the loss of the worker bees of a hive despite there still being abundant food reserves in the hives and the queen and immature brood (the larval stage of bees) being relatively unaffected, however without any workers the hive is unable to sustain itself and will die (1). It’s been a reported phenomenon for a long time with it being documented as far back as 1869 (2) with feral populations of bees drastically declining from 1972-2006 (3). However it was not widely reported as a problem until the winter of 2006-2007 when large number of commercial hives were lost with operators reporting 30-90% of hives lost in some parts of the world (1).
The causes of colony collapse are unknown with it being believed to be a result of many varied stresses such as increased levels of pesticides, parasites, beekeeping practices (e.g. use of antibiotics and trucking of hives by operators), decreasing queen quality as a side effect of selective breeding, and immunodeficiency. It is currently thought that each individual stressor is insufficient but common stresses, such as pesticides, lead to immunodeficiency causing the population to become vulnerable to infections and parasites such as the varroa mite (4).
While staple foods like rice and grains largely rely on abiotic (eg wind) methods of pollination many of the foods we eat are reliant on bees to pollinate them quickly ensuring production of a healthy fruit such as apples, kiwifruit and almonds. Many farmers rely on renting commercial hives that act as pollinators during the initial window when the plants flower to ensure rapid pollination and reduce risk of harm from weather, pests and disease. The loss of hives increases the cost to farmers as either rental of hives costs more or reduces the production of fruit driving up the price of foods that use bees as their primary pollinator.
As with other countries the loss of bees will have a major impact on New Zealand with the bee assisted production being worth an estimated $5.1 billion to the New Zealand economy. In our agricultural industry much of the produce, such as apple and kiwifruit, is a direct result of pollination and indirect effects such as the estimated $1.5 billion worth of dairy products gained from clover pollination (5). Hawkes Bay’s reliance on these sectors means this presents a greater threat to us than many other regions.
In New Zealand there is a lack of wild bee hives due them no longer being able to easily survive without management. We can help combat this problem by making our gardens more hospitable to them. Not using sprays on your garden, having nectar producing plants, mowing the lawn less and offering to host a hive can all help with the problem.
To learn more or to support bees in your area, click on the pictures: