There has been a lot of coverage in the news about the dramatic crashes in bee populations (termed colony collapse disorder, or CCD) that are sweeping the country, and also appear to be happening in Europe as well. The exact causes are puzzling bee experts, and the whole problem is pretty enigmatic so far. There are many different possible reasons for the die-offs, just a few are climate change, pathogens, pesticides, mites, and (yes, this has been suggested) the wave emissions from cell phones.
But one interesting study was reported last week: researchers have had success in protecting hives from CCD by treating hives with oils derived from spearmint and lemon grass. These substances are being marketed as Honey B Healthy, but the practice of using lemon and spearmint in bee-keeping can be traced back 60,000 years.
The procedures (detailed in the ScienceDaily article) help to protect the hives from bacteria and other pathogens, in addition to killing up to 93 percent of the mites in a hive after just one day of treatment.
Hopefully this will be applied on a larger scale and will help to prevent further declines. The amount of time the popular media has given to this issue has been pretty extensive, a good example of how conservation efforts tend to be boosted immensely when human economic activities are at stake ($6 billion in California alone). While all of our popular produce items (for example, apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, cucumbers, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons) are threatened, the beef industry is also in a perilous position because cows are, obviously, herbivores, and bees are key in pollinating the alfalfa used to sustain cattle.
I'm very glad that so much attention is being given to this issue, but it does highlight just how selective we tend to be about conservation. Who is out there campaigning for the Zayante Band-winged Grasshopper, another endangered insect from California? Its populations have declined due to urban development and sand mining, aka human economic activities...so the issues that eliminate one species may save another. Such is our world, hopefully the bee issue will make people more aware of conservation concerns in general and will lead to increased attention to things like this in the future.