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Sierra Daily

Jun 20, 2011

Busy as Bees

GR_bees

Wild honeybee colonies are reeling from the same "colony collapse disorder" that is decimating commercial hives. Suspicion is coming to rest on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids--but, as David Darlington reports in the new issue of Sierra, even though the EPA has found the pesticides to be "highly toxic" to bees, the agency is painfully slow in doing anything about it.

In big agricultural states like California, growers often rent European bees to pollinate their crops. A new study in the journal Rangelands by 2007 MacArthur Foundation "genius" winner Claire Kremen finds, however, that more than a third of the pollination "services" in the state come not from rent-a-bees but from wild colonies, mostly living in natural habitats adjacent to fields. "We would never invest all of our retirement savings in just one stock," says Kremen, but this is essentially what farmers do when they rely solely on European honeybees for pollination." (More here.) Kremen puts the ecosystem value of native bees at up to $2.4 billion for California alone. Noting that many of these hardworking wild bees live in cattle rangelands, Kremen draws the obvious moral from Oklahoma: "The farmer and the cowman should be friends."

--Paul Rauber

--image Konrad Wothe/Picture Press/Photolibrary

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