Even cell phones may contribute to CCD

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a textbook example of modern environmental challenges – not because of the potential gravity of pollination declines or an intrinsic fascination we may have for our stingy honey-producing friends – but because it shows ecological stresses become actual disturbances when these start adding up.

Ever since beekeepers worldwide reported a sudden die-off in bee populations (some say since 2006, others since 2003) scientists have had a hard time to understand what is the cause of the problem. It has however become clear there are likely many different factors at play, which means finding a solution may be equally complicated.

For ecologists this makes it legitimate to suggest new, perhaps previously overlooked threats to honeybees (and bumblebees!) – even if the research that should prove such claims seems unfit for the established scientific journals.

A team of Swiss scientists, led by Daniel Favre, who works for the Laboratory of Cellular Biotechnology of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, found placing a mobile phone underneath a bee hyve, may confuse the bees due to high frequency tones it emits during a call, and thereby provoke ‘worker piping,’ a signal to leave the hive and swarm.

Other research suggests individual bees that are away from their hyves may lose their orientation due to cell phone signal disturbances, possibly disabling them from returning to their colonies.

We have however learned to be a bit skeptical of scientists proclaiming they have found the cause of CCD. Whether that would be iridoviridae & nosema apis, imidacloprid or varroa destructor. And, judging by intuition, cell phones should be no exception to that.

On the other hand, if cell phones do indeed turn out to be an important contributor to CCD, that may significantly worsen the ‘environmental challenge’. Because a world without mobile phones is as hard to imagine as one without bees.

And there is one other question this raises: if bees get in trouble over our phones – what about all the other organisms that get close to them. Like us.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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