Leading entomologist Marla Spivak: ‘We can have both pesticides and pollinators’

Marla Spivak, who holds a McKnight professorship in entomology at the University of Minnesota and directs the Bee Lab there, knows as much about bees as anyone. The notion that bees are dying off in just one way – the way labeled “colony collapse disorder,” with bees suddenly vacating their hives en masse, never to return – is outmoded. National surveys made since the initial appearance of CCD in 2006 and 2007 have now established that “actually, a very small proportion of colonies that are dying are dying from those particular symptoms.”

It happens – but the majority of colonies are dying for many, many reasons. From the mites, from bad nutrition, from not enough honey, from pesticides. … Surprisingly few are being killed only by pesticides, really, but from diseases and pests and all of the interactions that seem to be happening.

Addressing indirectly the calls to ban neonicotinoids, said that analysis of pesticide residues in bee-gathered pollen is showing neonics “very rarely – but you find everything else.”

And the other thing we need to understand about our insecticides is that – let me put it this way: If you go to the pharmacy, or if you take an aspirin, any drug for yourself, the active ingredient will be labeled, and the inert ingredients will be labeled.

If you go to a pesticide label, only the active ingredient will be there. The inert ingredients are all proprietary information, they’re not revealed, and some of these, quote, ‘inactive’ ingredients are actually more toxic than the active ingredient.

Genetically modified crops aren’t a problem per se for bees, Spivak said, but their widespread use has driven a massive increase in herbicide applications. No direct toxicity, again, but a major hit to habitat.

We grow Roundup-ready plants, which allows us to apply a lot of herbicide to kill off all the weedy flowers in the field without killing the crop. But many of those weedy plants have flowers that bees depend on for their food, and so the dramatic increase in herbicides is killing off the food for bees in many locations.

Article at http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/3/12/leading-entomologist-marla-spivak-we-can-have-both-pesticides-and-pollinators/

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Marla Spivak: To grasp our bees’ plight and prospects, stay focused on food
By Ron Meador | 03/11/15 who chaired a Q&A session with Marla at her Pollinators in Peril presentation March 9 in Minneapolis
As I listened to Marla Spivak discuss the plight and prospects of our honeybees on Monday evening, it occurred to me that I was watching a masterful application of Albert Einstein’s principle that complex matters should be made as simple as possible – but not simpler.

Most of us have grasped by now that honeybees are under pressure from multiple sources, with certain insecticides, habitat loss, parasites and disease in the leading roles. But great argument continues over how to weigh their contributions:

Commercial beekeepers assign most of the blame to neoicotinoid insecticides, a new type of systemic bug-killer whose surge in U.S. market share roughly coincided with the appearance of hive-emptying “colony collapse disorder” in 2006.

Neonics’ manufacturers, vendors and applicators of course want to fix the fault elsewhere, and typically prefer the parasitic varroa mites – a problem, after all, that can be addressed by buying and applying a miticide.

Many an entomologist and environmentalist emphasizes the role of habitat loss, the conversion of wild land into row crops, parking lots, golf courses and residential lawns that, for a flower-seeking honeybee, are more barren than a desertscape.

Spivak, who holds a McKnight professorship in entomology at the University of Minnesota and directs the Bee Lab there, knows as much about these matters as anyone. And her opinions are more influential than most.

To gauge her authority, you could try a Google search on, say, her name plus “bees” or “pollinators.” I did that on Sunday and came up with more than 11,000 hits across a wide variety of news, policy, university and government sites.

Why food is at the center

From Spivak’s perspective, all of these contending views are partly right and partly wrong. She feels that if you really want to understand what’s going on with bees – and what can be done to help them – you have to keep your focus on the food.

Here’s the reasoning she laid out at a special MinnPost Earth Journal event at Hell’s Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis:

For starters, the notion that bees are dying off in just one way – the way labeled “colony collapse disorder,” with bees suddenly vacating their hives en masse, never to return – is outmoded.

National surveys made since the initial appearance of CCD in 2006 and 2007 have now established that “actually, a very small proportion of colonies are dying from those particular symptoms.”

It happens – but the majority of colonies are dying for many, many reasons. From the mites, from bad nutrition, from not enough honey, from pesticides. … Surprisingly few are being killed only by pesticides, really, but from diseases and pests and all of the interactions that seem to be happening.

Still, the overall losses continue at levels that most commercial beekeepers consider financially unsustainable: 30 percent of hives, or more, in some recent years, with a slight improvement last year. And most of these pressure factors, if not all of them, could be offset to some degree by a better supply of clean and convenient food, which for bees consists entirely of flower products.

The protein part would be pollen, and the carbohydrate part would be the nectar. … That’s all they eat. They get all of their nutritional requirements from that, and nutrition is at the base of everything.

So when bees have good nutrition, they’re actually able to detoxify pesticides. … Their immune systems are bolstered … and they can fight off diseases.

Full article at http://www.minnpost.com/earth-journal/2015/03/marla-spivak-grasp-our-bees-plight-and-prospects-stay-focused-food

See also: Genetic Literacy Project “Where Science Trumps Ideology” – http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org

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