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Issue link: http://gcmdigital.gcsaa.org/i/199080
research The plight of the bees Why are bees and other pollinators dying, and how can the golf industry safeguard bees and even augment their populations? Pollinators, especially bees, are vital to agricultural production. Honey bees get most of the credit, but in the United States, there are also about 4,000 species of native bees, including bumble bees, orchard mason bees and leafcutter bees, that provide pollination services. Without bees, crops such as apples, almonds, blueberries, tomatoes and many others could not be economically produced. Wildfowers and many other wild plants also rely on bee pollination to produce fruits and seed. Pollination services provided by insects are valued at more than $29 billion per year in the U.S. alone (2). Recently, however, populations of honey bees and native bees have declined alarmingly (8). In particular, colony collapse disorder (CCD), a sudden disappearance of honey bees from seemingly normal hives, has focused attention on whether or not insecticides, especially neonicotinoids, may be contributing to pollinator decline. Some of those insecticides are used in golf course maintenance, so it is important that superintendents understand the issue and are able to discuss it with the public. This article outlines current knowledge about causes of pollinator declines and summarizes our recent research to objectively evaluate whether turf insecticides pose a hazard to bees and, if so, how the risks can be minimized. The inside of a bumble bee hive shows the honey pots (open cells with shiny contents), where the bumble bees store their limited supply of food. The closed cells contain baby bees or eggs. Photo by Jonathan Larson What's driving pollinator decline? Researchers agree that there is no single reason why bees are in trouble (8). Rather, a perfect storm of stresses, outlined below, are acting together to contribute to declining pollinator populations. Habitat loss and fragmentation Loss of habitat is among the biggest threats to pollinator health (8). In the U.S., about 1 million acres of farmland or natural habitat are converted to urban areas each year (7). Urbanization can lead to shortages of the foral resources that bees depend on for food. Even farmland is usually not optimal for bees as monocultures of crops such as corn and wheat offer little in the way of nectar and pollen that wild bees need to survive. Most types of native bees nest in specifc places. Bumble bees, for example, take over abandoned rodent burrows as homes for their colonies. When meadows and woodlots are converted to human use, nesting sites for bees may be limited. When only remnants of these former natural areas are left behind, worker bees must forage greater distances, use more energy and face greater risks to bring food back to the nest. Parasites, diseases and changes in beekeeping practices Managed honey bees are susceptible to several microbial diseases including deformed wing virus, American foulbrood, chalkbrood and Nosema. Increased global trade in bee colonies makes it easier for exotic bee pathogens to be introduced inadvertently to the U.S. For example, the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, which has been implicated as one of several causal factors in CCD, was frst identifed in Israel but now infects hives around the world. Honey bees are also susceptible to tracheal mites that clog their breathing tubes and to blood-sucking Varroa mites that parasitize all life stages. Bees that become infected by one stress agent are weakened and may be less able to fend off the others (8). Shipping honey bee colonies around the country for commercial pollination can weaken them, increasing vulnerability to these agents, and they may bring diseases with them that will infect local bee populations. Beekeepers provide colonies with supplemental food — often sugar or corn syrup This research was funded in part by the United States Golf Association. Jonathan L. Larson Daniel A. Potter, Ph.D. November 2013 GCM 85