Honey bee colonies across North America are being hit by an unexplained phenomenon christened ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD). When beekeepers open their hives, they find virtually complete die-off of the colony, with just the queen, some brood and a small number of workers. CCD has been observed in 22 US states as well as parts of Canada. In some states the loss of honey bee colonies is estimated as high as 75 percent of the population backyardhive.com . In Europe, a similar phenomenon has been recently reported in Spain and Poland, and to a lesser degree in Switzerland and Germany.
Why should we worry? Well, obviously this is a major threat to honey growers, but there are wider and very worrying implications for agriculture in general. Honey bees are the primary pollinator for many crops, particularly fruit and nuts. Almond growing in California had a 2006 crop value of $1.5 billion. In 2000, the total U.S. crop value that was wholly dependent on the honey bee pollination was estimated to exceed $15 billion. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating approximately one third of the US crops of almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. The commercial viability of these crops is therefore strongly tied to the beekeeping industry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony_Collapse_Disorder
The fact that this condition, as well as accelerating across North America, has now also appeared in Europe is being taken very seriously. In spite of extensive research, no definite causal link has been identified, although a number of contributory factors have been put forward. A CCD Working Group has been set up working out of Penn State University.
Pollination is one of those eco-system services to which environmental economists are so keen for us to assign a monetary value. It looks as if we’re going to find out exactly how much this little piece of the bio-diversity jigsaw puzzle is actually worth.