Since around 2006, a mysterious threat has affected bee populations across many parts of the world. Beekeepers started reporting extremely high losses of their colonies. In some cases, the losses were staggering - 90% or more of hives were lost. What was particularly confusing was the nature of the losses. In at least 50% of these cases, there were no signs of the traditional threats. No signs of disease, no clear indication of high mite counts or any other obvious explanation.
The symptoms were confusing and remain so today.
Consider that for a second. The very things that adult bees work so hard to create and protect - honey, pollen, brood and even the queen - are left behind, with no apparent signs of traditional problems, such as mites.
This combination of events and symptoms is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
The dramatic, newsworthy nature of CCD attracted the attention of many. This included the scientific community, which continues to investigate and try to understand the cause. Over time, it has also included the press, including general media outlets. True to the soundbite-driven nature of society today, many of these news organizations use sensational language and regularly claim "breaking news" of the discovery of the cause.
Yet even today, well over a decade later, there is no single, widely-accepted cause of CCD. The nature of beekeeping, with its diverse range of participants (from individual beekeepers to huge agriculture organizations), means that consistent, level-headed consideration of CCD isn't always easy to find.
At this stage, the jury is still out. But there are plenty of areas under investigation.
This is just a partial list of possible causes. For each of these individual claims there have often been apparently valid counter-arguments.
There is no shortage of folks who claim they "know". These claims are commonly made from personal experience or from speaking to others in their area. While such opinions and their experiences are important and should be considered, we should not be basing research on "me too" mentalities of from sample sizes that are statistically inconsequential. Too many form their opinions entirely from their own experiences.
The betting money today is on the cause being a complex combination of factors. But no-one knows for sure and CCD continues to be a cause of great concern.
There is some potentially good news. There are some indications that recent years have seen some decline in events attributed to CCD. But, as with all things related to CCD it seems, the data isn't overwhelmingly supportive of this conclusion, at least not yet. Too many studies have been conducted without scientific rigor and the sensationalist tendencies of the press can hinder, rather than help. Regardless, it is accepted that CCD-related losses have fallen from the dramatic peaks of 2006.
As we move into Course : A Healthy Beehive, we will be covering a wide range of topics representing threats to bees. It is important for the beekeeper to gather a firm awareness of these topics over time and to stay current. So we put a significant focus on these less-than-positive topics quite intentionally.
But we also understand that an emphasis on these negative issues might be alarming to the new beekeeper. To that thought, we'd propose an analogy. Like all analogies, this will break down at some point, but go with the flow please!
Attainment of a private pilot's certificate is a fun and challenging commitment. But there is a common and frequent exposure to pilots of all levels to the potential risks. The majority of those efforts are, quite rightly, focused on "if things go bad". This is entirely the right thing to do, but if one were to reflect on the time taken and the words written considering potentially bad events, one could conclude that many planes fall out of the sky every day!
Of course, it is precisely because of the deliberate, intentional and reasoned focus on risks that air travel today - both commercial and recreational - is as safe today as it has ever been.
OK, analogy over. We didn't say it was perfect and the stakes are higher when it comes to air travel. But hopefully you will see the point we're attempting to make here. An ongoing focus on risks and threats is a good, healthy thing and independent of the likelihood of problems occurring.
With CCD we can't tell you "do x and y will not happen", because no matter what you might read....no-one knows. That challenges all of us, since uncertainty is troubling.
However, we propose two broad commitments you can make, to increase the chances of your bees doing well.
CCD is an ongoing and significant concern and no-one would seek to minimize its importance. But, beekeeping continues to flourish and, while the risk of losses is ever-present, many beekeepers successfully see their bees survive, year-after-year.
Attention to beekeeping best practices - as we will cover in Course 3 : A Healthy Beehive - and a willingness to pay attention to what bees tell us at each inspection will go a long way toward increasing your own chances of long-term success.