Since 2006, beekeepers in Europe and North America have been reporting unusually large numbers of honeybee colony deaths. A large bee die-off is of great ecological concern because of the continued dependence of farming on bees to pollinate certain major crops. For this reason, the bee colony disappearances have been designated by a new term, "colony collapse disorder," and research continues into the possible causes of this phenomenon. One current theory is that cellphone radiation is harming or confusing bees and causing colonies to die off.
- Colony Collapse Disorder -
At least in the U.S., a combination of factors such as urban sprawl and reductions in the numbers of professional beekeepers resulted in a measurable decline in the number of domestic honeybee colonies, which paralleled similar reductions in wild honeybees over the past forty years. However, since 2006, there is a general perception that annual losses have accelerated to startling rates, at least in some regions. In 2009, for example, one-third of American colonies failed to survive the winter.
The most unusual phenemenon about the new colony collapses were the coincidence of several unusual factors: the presence of a live queen (bee colonies naturally die off without a queen to lay new eggs, but should survive as long as a queen is present), the availability of food and of food reserves within the hive (signalling that the bees have not starved to death), and the presence of capped brood which have not hatched (a healthy colony normally does not simply abandon its young in this way). This final stage may be preceded by reduced feeding, reduced numbers of healthy working bees, and an unusual number of young adult workers. The tendency for a large number of hives to be found simply absent of bees, either almost entirely or entirely, has led to the disorder being colloquially termed the Mary Celeste syndrome in parts of Europe, after a 19th-century ship whose crew disappeared mysteriously.
- Cellphone Radiation and Colony Collapse Disorder -
One of the older theories which accounts for the disappearance of honeybees is that they have been either harmed or confused (i.e. cannot navigate properly between food sources and the hives) due to the growing number of electromagnetic radiation fields which pervade our current wireless society. In particular, the growth in cellphones - and of the low-level radiation involved in telecommunications - could be harming bees. Since the theory is still speculative, the precise mechanism by which it affects bees is unknown, although since bees are able to detect magnetic fields, one logical possibility would be that additional radiation sources confuses them, so that they are more likely to get lost as they make their way between food sources and the hive.
Thus far a considerable number of scientific studies, including at the University of Landau, have failed to identify a particular reaction in bees from low-level radiation. For this reason, while it is possible that cellphone radiation is harming bees, and that the level of harm has increased commensurate with the increasing use of cellular phones, no conclusive evidence has ever been put forward to support this theory. It likely survives, in large part, because of its apparent connection to similar arguments that increased cellphone use will have harmful consequences for people, as well.
- Other Possible Causes -
There are many skeptics who have advanced competing explanations for colony collapse disorder. One very likely possibility is the spread of a disease which is progressively ravaging bee populations around the world. Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, for instance, can paralyze and kill bees. As bees become afflicted outside of the hive, the hive population would seem to gradually disappear. The virus is carried by Varroa mites, and it is possible that the same mites are the carriers for some other deadly pathogen as well.
Other possible reasons for the colony collapses include some other pathogen, some effect of minor or regional climate change, or some unexpected and so-far-unidentified consequence of a new chemical pesticide or fertilizer spread over farm crops the bees are using as food sources.