March 6, 2009

A DESIGN DILEMMA:

The bees are back in town: The economic crisis has contributed to a glut of bees in California. That raises questions about whether a supposed global pollination crisis is real The Economist, 3/05/09)

This year’s Californian bee glut, then, has been caused by a mixture of rising supply meeting falling demand. The price of almonds dropped by 30% between August and December last year, as people had less money in their pockets. That has caused growers to cut costs, and therefore hire fewer hives. There is also a drought in the region, and many farmers are unlikely to receive enough water to go ahead with the harvest. Meanwhile, the recent high prices for pollination contracts made it look worthwhile fattening bees up with supplements over the winter. That may help explain why there have been fewer colony collapses.

The rise and fall of the managed honeybee, then, owes as much to the economics of supply and demand as it does to the forces of nature. And if the nutrition and disease theory is correct, next year’s lower contract prices may see beekeepers cutting back on supplemental feeding, and a resurgence of CCD.
Bee off with you!

Despite the importance of the honeybee, none of this is evidence of a wide-scale pollination crisis or a threat that is specific to pollinators. No one has shown that colonies of wild bees are collapsing any more frequently than they used to. And while it is true that many species of butterflies, moths, birds, bats and other pollinators are in retreat, their problems are far more likely to mirror broader declines in biodiversity that are the result of well-known phenomena such as habitat loss and the intensification of agriculture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2009 6:09 PM
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