What's the deal with Colony Collapse Disorder?

Typically, when I tell people I study pollinators, this is one of the first questions I'm asked. I see CCD articles almost daily from high impact sources like The Washington Post and Time, and The New York Times seems to post a new CCD article every month. Colony Collapse Disorder is a catch-all term for the collapse of a honeybee colony. The queen bee will leave the colony, either due to death, parasitization, or sickness. The rest of the colony can not reproduce or sustain their population without her, and the colony either dies or leaves the hive. The news articles, magazine reviews, and outrageous reports have all treated CCD as a mystery, but a recent article in Science has elucidated the cause. For years, we have speculated and guessed, we've done investigated and wondered. Research in the past has shown various causes, but the new paper by Goulson et al. (2015) essentially says that the cause isn’t just one smoking gun- it’s three: pesticide use, parasite spread, and habitat loss (1) are all affecting honeybees, and in many cases, these issues are compounding. Based on this very recent publication, it becomes even clearer that we need to focus on what is causing the honeybee colonies to die, but more importantly, we need to focus on how other insects are affecting pollination.

I'm sorry to tell you, but I am not studying CCD. I know, It is an incredibly important topic, and luckily, there are many capable scientists working on it. My research focuses on alternative pollinators. Just like there are people trying to find alternative sources of fuel and energy, food and water, I am working to discover if there are alternative pollinators. Honeybees are incredibly efficient, easy to manage, and they're pretty cute, but they aren't the only pollinators out there! There are loads of different kinds of bees, but there are also flies, moths, butterflies, wasps, beetles, ants, and other insects crawling around in the pollen producing structures of flowers, and for some reason, researchers don't seem to be as interested. I like to think of myself as an advocate for all of the non-bee pollinators out there. I understand that colony collapse disorder is affecting our farms, crops, and overall ability to provide food to the growing population, but if we shouldn't continue to put all of our eggs in the honeybee basket. Native bees have been shown to provide significant pollination services to crops when provided adequate habitat (2). Non-bee insects will factor into pollination as well, and I am thrilled to share this information with you all in the months to come!

 1. D. Goulson, E. Nicholls, C. Botías, E. L. Rotheray, Bee declines driven by combined stress from parasites, pesticides, and lack of flowers. Science (80-. ). 10 (2015).

2. L. a Garibaldi et al., Wild pollinators enhance fruit set of crops regardless of honey bee abundance. Science. 339, 1608–11 (2013).

 

Photo of a t-shirt purchased from the University of Florida Entomology Graduate Student Organization. In honeybees, the Queen is the only member of the colony that produces eggs, while the workers either care for the young or provide food. Photo credit: Rachel Olsson.

Photo of a t-shirt purchased from the University of Florida Entomology Graduate Student Organization. In honeybees, the Queen is the only member of the colony that produces eggs, while the workers either care for the young or provide food. Photo credit: Rachel Olsson.