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Where The Bees Went

Remember the honeybee scare? What's happening with that? Debora MacKenzie has a handy piece in New Scientist revisiting the still-mysterious collapse of the world's honeybee populations that started a few years back. A quick recap: "A third of our food relies on bees for pollination. Both the US and UK report losing a third of their bees last year." And no one's quite sure why.

The emerging consensus seems to hold that there's no single killer plaguing the world's bees—they're under assault from a wide array of different factors. For one, the varroa mite, which has spread from Siberia to all corners of the planet, has wreaked havoc on colonies by reducing the bees' resistance to viral infections, like the one that may cause the bizarrely horrifying colony collapse disorder. Meanwhile, Scientists have recently found that common insecticides once thought harmless to bees may actually prove lethal when used in combination (as they often are). And then there's the possibility that extensive breeding over the years may have actually weakened the species—as honeybees are selected for calmness and honey production, they become less hardy and less able to deal with these stresses.

Either way, the U.S. government and the EU are frantically throwing a lot of money at researching the problem (the UK National Bee Unit—yes, there's such a thing—is getting $4 million just to map out the situation in Europe). Here in the United States, of course, John McCain has been snickering at funds for "beaver management," while Bobby Jindal was last seen mocking this crazy idea that we might actually want to monitor active volcanos, so one can only guess what they'll make of money for bee studies, but for those of us not so keen on the idea of one-third of our food supply being endangered, it seems important we get a handle on this.

--Bradford Plumer