Ring or Buzz?

Last month, The Coffee House highlighted the problem of The Vanishing Bee. We reported on the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) , which has seen large-scale disappearances of bees across the US and lately in Europe. If the problem continues to spread, there are massive implications for crop pollination and agricultural production. As the first incidents are reported in the UK (although officially denied), a “new” study suggests a link between CCD and mobile phones.

In the last few days, there’s been a flurry of internet activity reporting on research carried out by Dr Jochen Kuhn of Landau University. Apparently, bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Kuhn says this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause of CCD. The theory is that mobile phone radiation interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing them from finding their way back to their hives.

Articles in respected journals such as the New Scientist and The Independent have been picked up and re-published on blogs and web sites around the world, but nowhere can we find a link to the details of the research findings. However, a bit of digging shows that back in 2003, a Dr Jochen Kuhn of the University of Koblenz-Landau gave a keynote address to a Symposium on AI, Logic, Mathematics, Modeling and Cognition at the International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics. The title of the address was “An Advanced Interdisciplinary Study in Theoretical Modelling of a Biological System – The Effect of High Frequency Electromagnetic Fields on Honey Bees”. Dr Kuhn has published a number of articles on this subject, going back to 1999. It seems this may not be new research after all.

New or old, this is the latest in a long line of theories put forward to explain CCD. All have their drawbacks. It may be that CCD is the product of a number of different factors. What is certain is that this is an urgent problem requiring prompt action. There is a much-repeated, although unsubstantiated, quote from Albert Einstein:

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Einstein may not have actually said this, and like Dr Kuhn he may not have known as much about bees as he did about theoretical physics, but it doesn’t make him wrong. Try this quote from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring:

“Man is more dependent on these wild pollinators than he usually realizes. Even the farmer himself seldom understands the value of wild bees and often participates in the very measures that rob him of their services. …Without insect pollination, most of the soil-holding and soil-enriching plants of uncultivated areas would die out, with far-reaching consequences to the ecology of the whole region … ”

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12 Responses to Ring or Buzz?

  1. matt says:

    Interesting line from the NS article;

    ‘Previous studies have shown that bees’ behaviour changes near power lines’.

    What I don’t get is, why would CCD have ‘spread from the US to Europe’ if mobile networks were (even partially) to blame?

  2. Pete Smith says:

    Indeed, and you can ask similar questions about the other suggestions for possible causes. Personally, I think CCD must be due to a cocktail of factors, rather than just one, but hey, what do I know?
    If it is phone related, perhaps rollout of new transmission technologies? Or the recent growth in the numbers of phone masts has intensified signal coverage and reached a tipping point for the bees?
    Answers on a postcard ….. (for God’s sake don’t use your cell phone)

  3. matt says:


    > ‘If it is phone related, perhaps rollout of new transmission technologies? Or the recent growth in the numbers of phone masts has intensified signal coverage and reached a tipping point for the bees?’

    Yes, I did think also about new transmission technologies as a possible cause. 3G? Digital?

    Hadn’t thought of your second point but it’s plausible. Even the two points combined.

    The growing use of wireless technologies in schools are also causing concerns. Maybe that’s why the kidz are increasingly hyperactive these days! 🙂

  4. Pete Smith says:

    Perhaps in a dim future when the remnants of mankind are huddling together under a dome/in a cave* surrounded by frozen tundra/featureless desert*, the sad demise of the honey bee will be a classic case study of how we realised too late the true complexity of the environmental web.

    Or not.

    *delete as appropriate

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  6. matt says:

    The International Herald Tribune reports that Jochen Kuhn has said, ‘Our studies cannot indicate that electromagnetic radiation is a cause of CCD’. The study involved the use of cordless phones, not mobiles, both emitting different types of radiation.

    Stefan Kimmel, who co-authored the study last year with Kuhn adds that, ‘Ever since The Independent wrote their article, for which they never called or wrote to us, none of us have been able to do any of our work because all our time has been spent in phone calls and emails trying to set things straight’.

    No buzz here then.

  7. Pete Smith says:

    Disappointed but not completely surprised that The Independent should be responsible for such a shoddy piece of journalism. I had a feeling there was something wrong somewhere.

    Meanwhile, beekeepers in Ontario report 23000 out of 76000 hives lost this winter.


  8. Pete Smith says:

    As reported in the Guardian, the Kuhn report was nothing to do with mobile phones and offered no evidence of any connection between CCD and electromagnetic radiation.


    Meanwhile, the latest ‘name in the frame’ for CCD is a fungus


  9. matt says:

    Hmmm, difficult to understand the article but, lets hope they’ve cracked it.

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  11. jenny ure says:

    surely a map of density of global wireless networks could be mapped against density of bee colony collapse disorder. Wireless networks for home use were implemented in the US earlier than here and the spread of both has been contingent.

    If this is an issue, one might expect more incidents of disorientation in other species such as whales and dolphins who use magnetic radiation as a navigational aid?

  12. matt says:

    Good point Jenny. Not sure if this has been done.

    Whales and dolphins among others do get disorrientated by noise from shipping. And increasingly there is proof that certain bird species are being driven out of urban areas, or changing their behaviour, because of urban noise.

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