Saturday, April 21, 2007

Einstein's Bees

Two weeks ago, a friend and I sat in the local Starbucks. I vividly recall we were talking about how small changes in our environment can have a large impact, and the example I came up with were bees who don't only produce honey, but pollinate many fruits. He was stunned to hear about the large effect that a loss of bee population could potentially have on our food supply, and asked me for details. As it turned out, he told this to another friend. Who, one week later, replied (forwarded to me), and asked if he'd seen the recent newspaper articles "You're absolutely correct about the bee problem affecting our food supply!"

Anyway, I only knew that because the recent bee-problem was pointed out to me already last summer, I think by Lubos (I couldn't find the comment though). What is new this April is that the bee-problem got a catchy name: the colony collapse disorder (already on Wikipedia), and is blamed on mobile phones by The Independent: Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?. They argue with the results of a study by German researchers at Landau University:

"Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause."

The word 'limited' already sounds very suspicious, and indeed the link is more than weak. For one, it is extremely implausible that this effect should have set in rather suddenly last summer. Mobile phone nets have gradually been extended over a far longer period of time. Also, it is very unlikely that such a mobile phone disorientation 'spreads out' as it seems to have done from the USA to Europe, this doesn't make sense at all:

"The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.
CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned."


But more importantly, mobile phones are rarely placed in bee hives. If one tries to find out what the researchers from Landau did, it turns out they indeed placed the 'base station of a mobile phone' directly in the bee hive. Now, if you don't speak German, let me be precise here: the German word commonly used for the English 'mobile phone' (or cell phone) is not 'Mobiltelefon', but 'Handy' (also written 'Händi' in best Denglish). The device the researchers used is not a cell phone, but a cordless home phone. What was placed directly in the bee hive was the base station of that phone.

An very conscise description of their experiment is available online. Unfortunately, it is (except for the abstract) in German. But even if you don't speak German, look at the pictures and illustrations

Verhaltensänderung der Honigbiene Apis mellifera unter elektromagnetischer Exposition

There is follow-up article in Spiegel who tried to clarify the misinterpretation of the researcher's results (again in German unfortunately): Werden Bienen tot telefoniert? (Are Bees phoned to death?), which also quotes Prof. Jürgen Tautz, bee-researcher at the university Würzburg: "I am sure: a healthy, not stressed, bee colony will not be affected by cell phone networks."

Ah - I just realized this wasn't even the reason for me writing. No, I meant to comment on the quotation that has been attributed to Albert Einstein in this context:

“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.”

(„Wenn die Biene von der Erde verschwindet, dann hat der Mensch nur noch vier Jahre zu leben; keine Bienen mehr, keine Bestäubung mehr, keine Pflanzen mehr, keine Tiere mehr, keine Menschen mehr.“)

If one does a Google search on 'Einstein Bees' it gives 981,000 results today (two days ago it was only 893,000).

I've read a lot of Einstein stuff, and I can't recall I ever came across something remotely like this. Nowhere could I find a source for this alleged quotation. It seems it goes back to this article by Walter Haefeker (see last paragraph), but there it ends without a reference. It is not listed in any book with Einstein quotations. There are various other people who have pointed out that this quotation is most likely made-up, at least completely unconfirmed see e.g. here, here, or here.

Update April 21st: See also Lubos' post.
Update April 29th: Gelf-Magazine has an article about the alleged Einstein quotation titled 'Albert Einstein, Ecologist?' which confirms my doubts about its authenticity

"Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, tells Gelf, "There is no proof of Einstein ever having said or written it." While Grosz notes that it is extremely difficult to disprove a quote, he "could not remember even one reference to bees in Einstein's writings."



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64 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think I heard this remark (or 'quotation' according to some people) delivered by E O Wilson in his TED prize award speech. He didn't cite Einstein.

Bee said...

Hi Anonymous,

that is interesting. I believe it was attributed to Einstein to give it more weight. This doesn't make it more sensible though. Bees are hardly the only insects that pollinate plants, and not everything that grows has to be pollinated by insects. Also, I believe at least the more wealthy nations can find technological means to circumvent the problem. I.e. it would take more than four years ;-)

The bee problem concerns me primarily because I suspect this is only the first of many 'collapses' to come.

(Sorry, feeling kind of apocalyptic today.)

Best,

B.

Gordon said...

Since this thread is on bees, I thought once again I'd mention Sue
Hubbell's book , "The Book of Bees"--it is charming.
The experiments you describe seem to be so flawed that they must have been designed by sociologists, not animal ethnologists.
Mosquitoes are great pollinators, at least the males are--the females are just pests (hmmm).

Bee said...

Hi Gordon,

yes, thanks - it's on my reading list... But I am currently stuck in a book about the collapse of our civilization (you might have guessed that).

The experiments you describe seem to be so flawed that they must have been designed by sociologists, not animal ethnologists.

The experiment they did was not designed to test what The Independent claimed. There is nothing flawed about it - indeed, if you read their article, it is a very precise and clear statement of what they did. One just can't conclude from this that bee colonies die because of cell phone networks. What is flawed is the interpretation by journalists.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

Hey Bee, if your apocalyptic feelings are correct, then I might as well not invest the labor in trying to make my lawn more organic. And why are you feeling apocalyptic when spring has arrived? Put away your Blackberry and your laptop, and take your bike and a backpack (camera if you like) and don't read anything or listen to any broadcast till Monday morning.

Best,
Arun

Bee said...

Hi Arun,

thanks. Actually, I hardly ever read a newspaper, skip radio stations if somebody starts talking, and I don't have a TV. I am afraid the 'infotainment' era is not for me.

Indeed, I am on my way out the door to take an extended walk :-) It is the spring time that makes me realize (again) how fragile all this beauty is, and how easily it can be destroyed. I am generally not fatalistic: realizing the existence of a problem is the first step to improvement. It is denial that can be fatal.

Speaking of apocalypse and collapse: taking care of your garden might indeed be the smartest thing to do. Make sure to plant stuff that grows without insect pollination though...

Best,

B.

John Blatchford said...

I have just written a brief article about ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ which you might find of interest http://fishinsects.suite101.com/article.cfm/colony_collapse_disorder

island said...

They're only blaming cell phones and towers, because Al Gore hasn't figured out how to blame it on global warming... ... ... yet.

Gordon said...

"But I am currently stuck in a book about the collapse of our civilization (you might have guessed that)."
--the Jared Diamond book?--ok but not compelling imho.
If you are in this mood, there is an essay in "Best Science Writing 2004"
by Greg Easterbrook, called "We're All Gonna Die".
The bees remind me of the frog conundrum--has anyone figured it out yet?--? parasite, fungus, uv rays, cellphones?

Lumo said...

Hi Bee, you learned about the mystery illness here...

Einstein was apparently an early alarmist although he was far from being the first one. What an idea: kleine Biene Maja dies and all of us are gone within 4 years, too. Much more realistic than global warming but still, bullshit.

There are still so many things that would work without bees. Great that bee herself modestly agreed. ;-)

island said...

... buh buh buh but, none of us would be here... if it weren't for BEE!

sorry, I can't stop myself... ;0)

Anonymous said...

For a laughable attempt to explain the disappearance of the bees with, and I am not kidding here, spherical harmonics and sunspots, see

http://www.synchronizm.com/blog/index.php/2007/03/29/the-bees-who-flew-too-high/

island said...

um... just to interject a little sanity, for shiizandgiggles...

It is a known fact that ecobalances (like ours) are both self-regulating and progressive,... so without denying our naturally expected anthropic input, we can still know that it is disseminated over the whole system in "waves" that *appear to the reactionary alarmist* to be more severe than they really are... on balance.

Lumo said...

The cell phone description is an invention of journalistic hyenes. What they actually tested were cordless phones at 2 GHz which is very different from cellphones by frequency.

If I were to make a bet, it would have something to do with UV light - maybe even under ozone hole. Bees see in the ultraviolet.

The true reason is however obvious: global warming religion. They just don't want to live in places where global warming alarmism undermines their freedom, so they prefer to die elsewhere.

The debate is over and it's time for an action - the society should swiftly execute all global warming alarmists in order to avoid a collapse predicted by Einstein for 2011. Incidentally, I am not sure whether Einstein has ever said it.

Pioneer1 said...

In the antiquity all new discoveries were attributed to one of the seven wise men. So if there was some astronomical discovery or calculation no one knew who the author was it was automatically ascribed to Thales. Newton has reached that stage long time ago. So much so that even engineering is called "Newtonian" while Newton's contribution to engineering is nil. There is even something called Big Gee, the Newton's constant of Gravity of which Newton never heard of. Einstein may be reaching that elevated status in physics as well. It is comforting that human behavior did not change in the last two millennia.

Bee said...

Hi Island,

They're only blaming cell phones and towers, because Al Gore hasn't figured out how to blame it on global warming... ... ... yet.


So true! I give it 99% chance that he will try. He might as well use Lubos' argument:

If I were to make a bet, it would have something to do with UV light - maybe even under ozone hole. Bees see in the ultraviolet.


now wouldn't that be ironic? Even though I admit it sounds like a reasonable guess, I am afraid it is equally implausible as the cell-phone theory. If the ozone-hole was responsible, Australia would have been the first to suffer from the mysterious bee-problem, but they don't. In fact, America even considers importing bees from Australia

Hi Lubos,

The true reason is however obvious: global warming religion. They just don't want to live in places where global warming alarmism undermines their freedom, so they prefer to die elsewhere.

The debate is over and it's time for an action - the society should swiftly execute all global warming alarmists in order to avoid a collapse predicted by Einstein for 2011. Incidentally, I am not sure whether Einstein has ever said it.


;-) Yeah. There is truth in it. If people want to yell alarm, they should make sure to yell the right thing, and not nonsense. It will only make people deaf on both ears, and nobody will listen to the serious warnings.

"Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population."
~Albert Einstein

And I am sure he said it. ('Out Of My Later Years' (1950))

Thanks for pointing me towards the comment. Yes, that was the one I recalled... but I am sure I heard about the bee-problem earlier, definitly before Christmas (I was in Germany over Christmas and recall I thought about it when I heard Biene Maja celebrates her 30est anniversary.)

Hi Gordon,

thanks! I will check out the essay. Yes, obviously, we are all gonna die.

--the Jared Diamond book?--ok but not compelling imho.

No, not that. It's by a guy from the Univ. of Toronto, Homer-Dixon, title: 'The Upside of Down - Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization' (it seems, subtitles are still en vogue). Unfortunately, I can't seem to make it through the 'Catastrophe' part.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Well, since everybody has, I have a theory as well. It's a genetically bug, a mutational malfunctioning that turned up during breeding, and that unfortunately is correlated to efficiency in honey making. Can happen. Genetic bugs might take one or two generations to strike in. Usually these bugs die out...

Somebody should check whether the North American bee breeders sold or shared colonies with Europe. It just seems to me extremely unlikely that the same problem should arise in North America AND Europe almost at the same time.

- Bee

paul valletta said...

I propose :STING THEORY!

The fact Bee's have been provided by nature, with a defensive_weapon (sting), seems to me to where the problem lays. The Bee's own toxins, would be very tuned to environmental conditions?

Bee's take pollen, but they also produce toxins, so whatever food they rely on, will go into their own bodies process to create their toxin supply. It seems logical that they would have picked up a chemical that has "chemically" altered their own bodies "toxin_factory" process?

It may be they have been "stung" by their own body toxins?

Nature provided the humble bee with a sting defence mechanism, that speaks loud to those who interfere with the vast amount of work Bee's provide to keep environments ticking over "naturally" .

There is a loud message here, and it has a sting in its tail!

paul valletta said...

Forgot to include link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bee_sting

best, pv.

Arun said...

"cordless phones at 2 GHz" => it is Wi-Fi networks, not cellular networks that is the problem, if at all. :-)

By the way, when the hive is abandoned, has the queen bee also left? Or does the queen bee die and none of the bees returns to the hive?

If "domesticated" bees are reverting to the wild, that is less of an alarming thing.

paul valletta said...

Forgive me!..not to understate the consequence for the signalling that Bee's provide in their everyday environment:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinger

Read it and see the importance of survival, and the process of signals contained, pv.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bee: if anybody should understand the problem with bees, it must be you. It takes one to know one. Propose your sting theory of bee group-think. The world awaits eagerly for your insights into this dreaded problem.

Gordon said...

I couldn't find a SNL "killer bees"
clip, but this should do:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wDZI15tiR0

Bee said...

Hi Gordon,

thanks... I always loved the flight of the bumble bee, though it doesn't sound particularly bumble-like to me. I like this one better though. (The guy is kind of cute, never heard of him before. If someone had shown me that video when I was a teenager, I had probably never given up piano lessons)

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Paul,

I propose :STING THEORY!

You will be thrilled to hear that Germany's 'cluster of excellence' (no joke, that's how they call it) has an existing group on sting theory, you can apply for a position here.:The group will be integrated into the existing groups on sting theory and cosmology at the University of Munich and also at the Max-Planck-Institute for Physics in Munich.

;-)


Hi Island,

It is a known fact that ecobalances (like ours) are both self-regulating and progressive,... so without denying our naturally expected anthropic input, we can still know that it is disseminated over the whole system in "waves" that *appear to the reactionary alarmist* to be more severe than they really are... on balance.

I have no idea where you get this 'known fact' from. It is a known fact that ecosystems undergo adaptive cycles of growth, collapse, and regeneration. GROWTH can not go on forever, we should have learned that from the Club of Rome report in 72 - you can argue about the details but there is no doubt that resources (all) on earth are limited and eternal growth is an illusion. It is a known fact that systems become less resilent if their complexity grows (for some info see e.g. here), and we are currently a *very* complex system.

Whether or not a system can cope with a "wave" i.e. a perturbation depends its stability, and ours is presently dramatically unstable. We live in a very small niche that we have created our own, and already small perturbations can kick us out of equilibrium and send us rolling downhill. We might be able to cope with one "wave", maybe with a second, but we won't always be lucky. As I said above, the problem is that the 'alarmists' yell so much nonsense that the really important stuff falls on deaf ears. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Anonymous,

if anybody should understand the problem with bees, it must be you. It takes one to know one. Propose your sting theory of bee group-think. The world awaits eagerly for your insights into this dreaded problem.

Did I detect a trace of sarcasm here? I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am a physicist and I will remain one. I am not even sure this problem can or needs to be solved - if these bees die, then it is probably a case of natural selection. I am just using the example to show how dependent we are on nature, no matter how great we think our technological achievements are, and that we should be very careful not to mess up nature's ways.

And how could I not be sad for every single bee when reading:

"[...] preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back [...] The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home."

*sob*

Best,

Bee (singly far from home)

paul valletta said...

Hi Bee, thanks for the job pointer !..I may give them a st-RING ;) but not on my mobile!..it's stuck on ST_ring "vibration" mode!

I wonder if the bee's are attracted to "mobile hones"..if scientists leave their mobile phones laying around, on top of hives for instance, then maybe..just maybe bee's follow the phones and their experimentalists away from their hives, with the intent to borrow the scientists mobile phones to "Phone_Home" ;)

Sort of like ET, so E_B's phone hive?.. Ouch! best wishes paul.

island said...

I have no idea where you get this 'known fact' from.

Well Bee, I certainly didn't hear it from a theoretical physicist... ;)... but if you type the phrase; "ecosystems are self-regulating" into google, and don't find a whole bunch of environmental biologists discussing this FACT, then come back and tell me all about it.

I kinda like this one, because it includes some examples for non-local coincidentally balanced anthropic ecospheres, but I personally got it from James Kay, (unfortunately deceased), and Eric Schneider:

http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:7-UXEA7SkioJ:arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/0110694+ecosystems+are+self+regulating&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=6&gl=us

Whether or not a system can cope with a "wave" i.e. a perturbation depends its stability, and ours is presently dramatically unstable.

ALL ecobalances are unstable and balanced between diametrically-opposing cumulatively-runaway extreme "downhill" tendencies that work against each other, (like liberals and conservatives do) to prevent the ramapant runaway effect that either "side", if left to their own desires, would have us suffer.

What's news is that "alarmists" and their equally fanatical counterparts don't appear to realize this.

Politics is the stupidity that saves us from ourselves.

Bee said...

Hi Island,

yes, ecosystems are self-regulating to a certain degree, but we both are talking about completely different time scales here. I am talking about, say decades.

ALL ecobalances are unstable and balanced between diametrically-opposing cumulatively-runaway extreme "downhill" tendencies that work against each other

You are talking as if there is something like an eternally 'stable' ecobalance. This is just not what we observe in nature, see e.g. the link I provided above. The ecosystem that we live in is definitely evolving, it is changing - I am reluctant to say this change is 'caused' by humankind because we are nothing but part of this system. If you read the signs, than it is obvious that our present system has gotten pretty complex, is loosing resilience, and is about to crash down to re-structure. When it comes to the ecological part, we might be able to postpone that for, say, some 10,000 years or so, I would appreciate this. When it comes to our political and social system, the threat looks currently pretty serious to me.

Best,

B.

Gordon said...

Somehow, I lost my post.
At least Maxsim has some talent, unlike most "musicians" girls lust after--hip-hop grunge drones.

Japanese robotics labs are very strange---in addition to strange
Carel Kapek-like 30's tin robots like the bumblebee one, they make creepy realistic human simulacra.
The bee problem is primarily the varoa mite weakening the bees, and delivering other vectors to the debilitated populations. Bumbles dont build hives and are like small clans rather than urban dwellers, and while the mite can exist on them, it doesnt really affect them, but uses them as a vector.
I posted a somewhat similar post on
the Refence Frame.
BTW, both you and Lubos are "rara apis" ( honeybee=apis mellifera" )

island said...

Yes, I said that ecobalances are "progressive", and Eric Schneider told me that this means that the cycles increase as energy-gradients become sharper, so we tend to combine smaller systems with larger ones, which destroys them, but what's more to a point that *should* hit homve for you is the fact that this indicates that the cosmological constant is one such, *self-regulating* anthropic balance.

I wonder how that could beeeeee... ?... ;)

But more to the point... I wonder how physicists can continue to willfully ignore this after I point it out given the magnitude to the consequences that this knowledge SHOULD have on them... seding them scrabling to discover how this mechanism works!?!!!

Bee said...

Hi Island,

I think we can find some common ground here about the fact that short-term cycles of growth, breakdown and renewal will be 'small' perturbations over a long-term evolution. What I was referring to above are the short-term cycles, that covering scales which I consider relevant for the next 10 generations or so.

Regarding the cosmological constant, I believe we have had a similar argument before. If you argue that the cosmological constant is a '*self-regulating* anthropic balance' than this is an essentially empty statement. What you need to come up with to convince anybody is exactly the mechanism through which this should work. I have no idea why you say that physicists [...] continue to willfully ignore this - there must be a whole lot of physicists trying to find the mechanism that causes the cosmological constant to evolve towards the presently observed value. I think however that most physicists (including me) can not take it serious that this mechanism is 'caused' by the existence of life on earth, as you might ask yourself what came first: the value of the CC being what we observe today or the evolution of life? One way or the other, finding the mechanism is exactly the issue, and saying it is a 'self-regulating anthropic balance' doesn't explain anything. Write down your theory, make a testable prediction, publish it, and we can talk. Best,

B.

QUASAR9 said...

It's strings tying them in knots

and all those mobile phone messages (and text) got them confused - they can't tell which way is north and which way is south

QUASAR9 said...

Bee, no need to be apocalyptic

If several billion people die
that's ok as long as it is not you and I. I quite look to warmers summers on the beaches of Scotland, Canada, Norway & Sweden.

Climate change can only be good for those at the periphery. But you'd think anyone who can pull rabbits or strings out of a hat, should understand all about 'spin'

CarlBrannen said...

I think the bee problem is a disease, maybe a mite, maybe a virus, maybe a bacteria, maybe some other pest. These sorts of things cause bee populations to always die back during winter, it's just a matter of how much.

But I would guess that it is a predator prey relationship between a host and a dedicated parasite, and therefore will tend towards amelioration. That is, parasites that do not completely kill their hosts, and give them immunity against competing parasites are favored by evolution.

Next year or the year after, the problem will be completely forgotten.

In the meantime, just how many of the foods important to man are pollinated mostly by bees? Mankind, and his critters, mostly live by grains and they are pollinated by the wind. The same applies to many types of trees as those of us who have allergies can attest.

The bee people say that 1/3 of man's food is insect pollinated. I doubt this. And that 80% of that is honey bee pollinated. I doubt this too. Certainly not 80% by weight.

For example, the crops listed on the www.ebeehoney.com/pollination page are: "Almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon and many other crops". The only one of these I've possibly eaten in the past 7 days is, "many other crops".

In the absence of honey bees, other bees, particularly bumble bees (i.e. "solitary" or "native bees") will pollinate instead. These do most of the pollinating in many cases already.

In short, I think this is much ado about almost NOTHING. It is just more crap from the same morons who brought you Y2K, new ice age, WMD in Iraq, global warming, pandemic flu, nuclear winter, world ecological disaster #n, ozone hole, nuclear radiation, global famine, peak oil, alar, al qaeda terror, and the concept that rock and roll would destroy America's youth.

You'd know this too, but you guys are ignorant of biology, ecology, and history. The memory of last year's scare du jour has already evaporated from your short attention spans. When I read the papers and I see the ongoing fiasco in Iraq it makes me sick.

Real scares include things that truly do regularly and repeatedly wreck this planet. The next ice age is a bit overdue. Bolide strikes regularly destroy most of the species here.

Bee said...

Hi Carl,

you might have noticed that I did not give any numbers. The reason for me writing was not to announce the end of the world, but to point out how dependent we are on nature working for us. We are able to live without bees, but add to this another blow - say, loss of most corn supplies in middle America? Maybe a third, civil war in Southern America? And we are running into real problems. Yes, this is unlikely, but it it not impossible and the less we care, the more likely it gets.

The bee people say that 1/3 of man's food is insect pollinated. I doubt this. And that 80% of that is honey bee pollinated. I doubt this too. Certainly not 80% by weight.

I don't know where these numbers come from, it seems to me kind of mixed up. The numbers I recall are from The Forgotten Pollinators, by Stephen L. Buchmann (foreword), quotation goes:

"Eighty percent of the species of our food plants world wide [...] depend on pollination by animals, almost all of which are insects. One out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat, and of the beverages we drink, are delivered to us roundabout by a volant bestiary of pollinators."

They don't say though how much depends on bees, and the term 'mouthful' seems to me rather vague. At least, it suggests volume, not weight - this being in agreement with friut generally containing lots of water.

For example, the crops listed [...] The only one of these I've possibly eaten in the past 7 days is, "many other crops".

Well. I am not sure how representative that is, as for me I would have counted 50% from that list. But anyhow: Sunflowers, canola and olives are needed for the most commonly used oils. Almost all kinds of nuts I can currently think of are animal pollinated. Potatoes are partly self-pollinated (have both male and female parts) but not completely, the same I think goes for tomatoes, citrus fruits as far as I know are almost entirely self-pollinated. Squash is insect pollinated, melons, strawberries, grapes (wine) etc. But the truereason why the commercial guys with the huge farms are worried and shout alarm is that essentially all their pollination relies on breed honey bees

"The largest managed pollination event in the world is in Californian almond orchards, where nearly half (about one million hives) of the US honey bees are trucked to the almond orchards each spring. New York's apple crop requires about 30,000 hives; Maine's blueberry crop uses about 50,000 hives each year."

(from Wiki)

You'd know this too, but you guys are ignorant of biology, ecology, and history.

Thanks for the kind words.

B.

Bee said...

Hi again Carl,

step back: the reason for me writing was actually

a) the abuse of Einstein's name for something I am convinced he never said and

b) the journalists (probably deliberate) misinterpretation of the study from the German guys to cook up the completely nonsensical claim that cell-phones kill honey bees.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

I dunno, Bee, I thought the journalists had said that bees do not return to the hive rather than "cell-phones kill bees".

Anyway, there has been testimony to the US Congress now:

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/4/23/42210/9088

From that story:

"If the bees were dying of pesticide poisoning or freezing, their bodies would be expected to lie around the hive. And if they were absconding because of some threat -- which they have been known to do -- they wouldn't leave without the queen."

"Colonies are established not by solitary queens, as in most bees, but by groups known as "swarms" which consist of a mated queen and a large contingent of workers. This group moves en masse to a nest site that has been scouted by workers beforehand, and once they arrive they immediately construct a new comb and begin to raise a new worker brood."

"They're not swarming anymore, according to Rick Pettis."

""It's not the staples," he said. "If you can imagine eating a bowl of oatmeal every day with no fruit on it, that's what it would be like" without honeybee pollination."

---------------------

Arun said...

Bottomline (from above cited story):

Honey bee colony losses are not uncommon. However, current losses seem to differ from past situations in that

- colony losses are occurring mostly because bees are failing to return to the hive (which is largely uncharacteristic of bee behavior),
- bee colony losses have been rapid,
- colony losses are occurring in large numbers, and
- the reason why these losses are occurring remains still largely unknown.
---

I would say it is among the hypotheses to be examined that something is disorienting bee navigation.

Arun said...

Also from that story, and this is for Carl Brannen:

"Honeybees are not the only pollinators whose numbers are dropping. Other animals that do this essential job -- non-honeybees, wasps, flies, beetles, birds and bats -- have decreasing populations as well. "

Arun said...

http://www.uiuc.edu/minutewith/mayberenbaum.html

"Have you ever seen anything like this before?


No, this is without precedent on this scale. Bees have died before, in vast numbers, but generally they leave bodies behind. Now, there are no bodies. That’s what’s so puzzling. People have suggested that colony collapse disorder could be the result of the combined effects of parasites, pesticide exposure and fungal disease. But where are the bodies? It is very strange, very sad."

Bee said...

Hi Arun,

thanks, this interview is really interesting!

I dunno, Bee, I thought the journalists had said that bees do not return to the hive rather than "cell-phones kill bees".

Well, yes, it wasn't said but strongly suggested. I mean, what am I to make out of a headline like 'Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?'

But since there are no bodies (I believe they would be hard to find if they don't accumulate in one place), this kind of reminds me of the hitch-hiker's guide with the Dolphins leaving earth before it gets destroyed ;-) Maybe the bees are just being picked up by aliens, or they gather in a secret place to overtake the planet. Sorry, just being silly

DON'T PANIC

Best,

B.

Bee said...

I just found that urban legends added a page on the Einstein quotation which says the current status is undetermined.

I wonder how they will ever be able to 'determine' that Einstein did *not* say it?

Gordon said...

Just look at the number of posts you get by mentioning an (apocryphal) quote by Einstein on bees. Next you will have to find one on earthworms---Darwin wrote his last, and typically thorough and exhaustive treatise on them.

Bee said...

Just look at the number of posts you get by mentioning an (apocryphal) quote by Einstein on bees.

Well, hardly anybody commented on the Einstein quote. I prefer to think people care about the bees :-)

Next you will have to find one on earthworms---Darwin wrote his last, and typically thorough and exhaustive treatise on them.

Maybe I don't even have to find one. I could just make one up.

"Try not to become a man of success but rather to become an earthworm."

"Science without earthworms is lame, earthworms without science are blind."

"If the earthworms don't fit the theory, change the earthworms."

~ A. Einstein (attributed)

;-)

B.

CarlBrannen said...

Bee; I realize that you're not a prime mover on the bee scare story, and I don't mean to be directed at your comments. I just can't stand to see the BS going on about this. We live in a democracy and the ignorant masses can do frightening things because everyone thinks that they are an expert on everybody else's business.

Having planted potatoes, I can assure you that they are propagated as tubers and require absolutely no pollination whatsoever. Things like squash and melons require insect pollination, but they can be quickly and simply pollinated by hand. The operation takes considerably less effort than harvesting, weeding or planting them, and will therefore likely increase the cost of growing them by an amount too small for you to detect at the store.

As far as the effect of honeybees on, for example, apple production, see:

"When studying apple production in Ontario, Kevan (1997) calculated roughly that providing about one hive of honey bees per hectare resulted in about one extra seed per apple, which produced larger and more symmetrical apples. These improved apples were estimated to provide marginal returns of about 5–6%, or about Can.$250/ha, compared to an orchard without honey bees."
http://www.mindfully.org/Farm/Pollinator-Declines.htm

Regarding the current situation with honeybees, this is what pollinator.com says about them:

"There are some folks I call "honeybee bashers" who are gleeful about any honeybee problems, and tend to exaggerate them as well. Many of these are ivory-tower types who have had little actual experience in the realities of crop pollination. Their position is a good one for attracting grant money for research. 'Nuff said."
http://pollinator.com/downforcount.htm

As far as oil from plants go, the primary source (57%) is soybean which requires no pollination whatsoever. See:
http://www.soystats.com/2005/page_29.htm

What we are talking about here is simple fundamental ignorance of biology, farming, ecology and history. Any farmer knows these facts.

If you doubt me, put your money where your mouth is. Sell your house. Put the money on orange juice futures. Be warned. At least my 2nd cousins can eat the canned food they still have left over from Y2K.

Physicists are very quick to note that amateurs typically know nothing about physics. The hell do you think that it should be in any way asymmetric with regard to the subjects in which physicists are amateurs?

My screed on all these scare stories amount to the same thing. People who are as ignorant as yahoos about a subject shouldn't spook each other about it, as if they were children telling scary stories at night. Tomorrow the sun will rise.

Gordon said...

Bee: Since you seem interested, here is some grabby reading:
http://charles-darwin.classic-literature.co.uk/formation-of-vegetable-mould/
Then of course, there is always the
Diet of Worms (yuuck) (1521)

Bee said...

Hi Carl,

Physicists are very quick to note that amateurs typically know nothing about physics. The hell do you think that it should be in any way asymmetric with regard to the subjects in which physicists are amateurs?

Well, I don't think that. I have never pretended to be an expert on bees, full-stop. I have actually no idea what you are upset about. All I have done is to look at the experimental report from the German group, and it occurred to me that most who don't speak German wouldn't be able to find out what they have really done so I summarized it. I have not interpreted their results, I have said I find the link that was pretended to be present by the Independent article very weak.

If I had a house, I definitely wouldn't sell it to invest in orange juice.

I won't argue with you whether or not I am allowed to find it sad that bees are dying and to say so.

We live in a democracy and the ignorant masses can do frightening things because everyone thinks that they are an expert on everybody else's business.


A) are you really sure you are living in a democracy? (Democracy means the opinion of everybody is weighted independently of his/hers status, income, and relations)

B) It is kind of ironic that on the one hand you are pointing towards the echochamber effect to argue that a problem is made larger than it is, on the other hand you are doing it yourself. Most people are actually very reasonable and are more than willing to leave important decisions to the experts. But the most of them you don't hear.

C) I too would say that the connectivity of the www has its dangers. But it also has its opportunities to democracy. I wish we would use them more wisely. It is a shame that the internet is dominated by commerce and business. Best,

B.

Arun said...

Growers sign pollination contracts with bee-keepers, presumably because the contracts are useful and not because growers live in ivory towers with no knowledge about their own business.

Arun said...

""They're absolutely vital," said Becca Fenstermaker, an operations manager for Pine Island Cranberry Co., the state's [NJ's] largest cranberry producer. "If we didn't bring bees in for pollination, we'd lose 50 to 75 percent of crop."

Pine Island Cranberry's 1,400 acres of cranberry bogs need 2,200 colonies of commercial bees each year, she said."

Link

Who should I believe? Becca Fenstermaker or Carl Brannen? ???? ???? ????

Arun said...
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Arun said...
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Arun said...

Comment preview does not work!

What do these idiots know? Why are they spending good money?

"In California, where almond growers rely on about one million hives in February to pollinate their crops, the price of a hive rental has gone from about $60 per hive to $150.

In Maine, the crop that relies the most on honey bees is blueberries. Every year between 50,000 and 60,000 hives are brought in from out of state to augment the 8,000 native hives needed to pollinate the fields. Blueberries are a more difficult crop to pollinate because each blossom must be visited six times by a bee versus one time for apple blossoms.

"Bees are essential for pollinating blueberries," said Dave Yarborough, a professor of horticulture and a blueberry specialist with the University of Maine Extension Service. "Growers are going to invest in them, whatever the cost."

He expects the price will be around $90 per hive this year, although he's heard some out-of-state beekeepers are offering them at $115.

Gordon said...

Bee: Congratulations! You have managed to attact an endangered species to your webblog--a "curmudeon", the "CarlBrennan".
You can identify them by their call-
"You think you know somethin', you pointy- headed _______ ( fill in the blank, but you know nothin' ".
Their habitat has been severely limited lately to letters to the editor section of newspapers, call-in radio shows, and blogs. The last known sighting of a true
curmudgeon on TV was an "Andy Rooney" on "60 Minutes", and their place in that ecological niche is being taken over by the copycat curmudgeon ( the "Lou Dobbs,..)_

-a former pointy-headed physicist

Bee said...

Hi Arun,


Who should I believe? Becca Fenstermaker or Carl Brannen? ???? ???? ????

Well. From a scientific point of view I'd say, don't believe anything, but ask for the facts. It seems to me Carl doesn't realize that people just want to discuss what's going on whether or not they are experts, and while they are still trying to find and understand the facts.

But besides this, I suspect that Fenstermaker might use the word 'vital' in a slightly different meaning than Carl. It's admittedly one of these unjustified implicitly threatening announcements that Capitalists like to spread. They essentially tell us all the time, if they don't do well, we can't do well. If we don't consume, we are damaging our country. Next thing he's going to say is if we don't help the blueberry business, GROWTH is in danger to decrease, and then the world is going to end. THIS is complete bullshit, and has actually nothing to do with the bees themselves.


Hi Gordon,

well. I believe in the importance of diversity.

"As for me, all I know is that I know nothing."
~Socrates

Best,

B.

stefan said...

Have just see this in the NYT:

Bees Vanish, and Scientists Race for Reasons

No Einstein quote, though ;-)

Best, stefan

Bee said...

I see. So, it's a case of global bee-AIDS, and the next scary story is going to address whether the disease can affect humans if a bee stings them, right?

CarlBrannen said...

Gosh Bee, I didn't mean to direct my comments to you personally, but instead to all people going on and on about how the bee "problem" could wipe humanity off the globe. Please accept my apologies.

With the behavior of bee keepers, that is, moving their hives from place to place around the country, it's hardly a surprise that they're having problems with parasites / diseaes. What they've done is make it very easy for bee problems to quickly spread around the country.

In the worst case, this could signal a minor disaster for bee keepers. But I doubt it. From people I know who keep bees, having your colony melt away is not an uncommon thing. When I see statistics in the news articles, they're along the line of "a bee keeper in the xxx area lost 80 to 90% of his bees" rather than useful statistics about the situation industry wide.

Even places hard hit still have bees available, but with prices up by 3x or so. For the bee keepers that have kept their colonies, it is a great time to make money. These are an indication of either (a) the bees aren't so useful to farmers, or (b) there are still enough bees around to keep prices at a level that the consumer will not at all notice. Bees are only a nearly infinitesimal percentage of the cost of making any sort of food.

The rest of us will have little chance of noticing the losses unless the press goes on and on about it. I think that we could see some new agricultural rules preventing the movement of bees across state boundaries.

Carl Brannen said...

By some bizarre stroke of fate, it appears that I may become the owner of 12 bee hives next week. At the very least I should have photos of them up on my blog.

Arun said...

Bee!

Narodnik said...

Could the bee hives be overpopulated? Could the hives be too moist, perhaps with contaminated moisture that affects bees judgement? Are males confused during mating? Are bees in any way deformed? Are the queens OK? Maybe the best are not being nurtured to become queens? Do the bees have disease - or is their immune system compromised? These are just theories, and I don't really know where else to send such theories. I found this blog. I'm not asking anyone on here - these are just questions I hope people researching this see - and check out.

Arun said...

Bees have been bred for the past 100 years to be much larger than they would be if left to their own devices. If you find a feral honeybee colony in a tree, for example, the cells bees use for egg-laying will be about 4.9 mm wide. This is the size they want to build ­ the natural size.

The foundation wax that beekeepers buy have cells that are 5.4 mm wide so eggs laid in these cells produce much bigger bees. It's the same factory farm mentality we've used to produce other livestock ­ bigger is better. But the bigger bees do not fare as well as natural-size bees.
.....

Varroa mites, a relatively new problem in North America, will multiply and gradually weaken a colony of large bees so that it dies within a few years. Mites enter a cell containing larvae just before the cell is capped over with wax. While the cell is capped, the bee transforms into an adult and varroa mites breed and multiply while feeding on the larvae.

The larvae of natural bees spend less time in this capped over stage, resulting in a significant decrease in the number of varroa mites produced. In fact, very low levels of mites are tolerated by the bees and do not affect the health of the colony. Natural-size bees, unlike large bees, detect the presence of varroa mites in capped over cells and can be observed chewing off the wax cap and killing the mites. Colonies of natural-size bees are healthier in the absence mites, which are vectors for many diseases.


via

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/5/19/17571/6222

Mckay.co.uk said...

November 18. BBC News reported that the Bee honey cycle will be wiped out by xmas 08 in the United Kingdon. Your article draws historial light into this important subject.

Anonymous said...

The bees are disappearing because they are being drawn into micro black holes. Their eyes detect the corona of the radiation from the event horizon of the holes and mistake it for a small flower. These micro or miniature black holes have been created recently by supercolliders that are used to study sub-atomic particles.