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WVU professor authority on bees


The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va.  — Jim Amrine looks at lawns and likes the ones with dandelions, clover and other growth considered weeds.

A bee prepares to land on a flower. Earth Day was marked Saturday in the United States when America celebrates and draws awareness to a healthy climate and environment. Researchers are concerned natural and man-made forces are impacting bee colonies.
(Photo by Art Smith)

Those are the yards where the homeowners aren’t using chemicals, said Amrine, a researcher, retired professor at West Virginia University and an authority on bees.

“They’re my heroes,” Amrine said.

Toxins in herbicides and pesticides eventually end up in living things, such as people, plants and bees that are responsible for pollinating many of the crops humans eat and may be a reason for declines in the bee population, according to Amrine.

And that impacts the agricultural industry, said J.J. Barrett, a West Virginia University Extension Agent in Wood County.

“Billions of dollars of crops are dependent on bees,” Barrett said.

Researchers studying a decline of the bee population cite Colony Collapse Disorder and attribute it to natural reasons including weather and man-made influences such as pesticides and herbicides.

Also the enemy of the bee is the varroa mite, Barrett said.

The mites feed on the blood of the adult and developing bees and in doing so infects the bees with other contagions and destroys their immune systems.

The use of systemic pesticides is another major factor, Barrett said. Among those are the neonicotinoids, an insecticide based on nicotine, he said.

The pesticide, intended for other insects that harm crops, is absorbed into the plant and its seeds and can remain for a long time, Barrett said. It accumulates in the bee, he said.

“They’re immune system is not as strong,” Barrett said.

While not a problem here, many large farming operations are bringing in colonies of bees for pollination of the crops to replace the colonies lost, he said.

“They can’t get enough,” Barrett said.

Saturday was Earth Day, established in 1970 as a day to celebrate the environmental movement.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear. The queen, plenty of food and a nursing bees remain to care for immature bees and the queen.

Cases of the disorder have declined over the last five years, the EPA said.

Hives that do not survive the winter, a bee health indicator, averaged about 29 percent since 2006, but dropped to about 23 percent 23.1 for the winter of 2014-2015, the EPA said. It is a high loss rate, but losses because of the disorder dropped from 60 percent lost in 2008 to 31.1 percent in 2013, the agency said.

Teresa Wagoner, Williamstown, of the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers Association said she lost two of 34 hives this past winter.

“The amount of honey they had stored was not enough to feed the amount of bees in the hive,” she said.

They starved, Wagoner said.

“You have to feed the bees sometimes over the winter,” H. Sam Hammett Jr. of Fleming, another member of the beekeepers association.

To prevent losses from cold, Hammett, who said the varroa mite was imported northward from southern bees, insulates the hives over the winter. Covering the hives with tar paper traps the heat allowing the bees to move, he said.

The problem is multifaceted, Amrine said. No. 1 and 2 reasons are the varroa mite and Nosema Ceranae parasite, Amrine said.

Global warming also has impacted and stressed the plants from where bees collect pollen, Amrine said. To survive the winter, bees need both honey and pollen, of which pollen provides the nutrients and proteins and honey the energy, he said.

“Honey is only half of the food they need,” Amrine said.

Honey is the source of energy.

Amrine has conducted research at WVU and has worked with beekeepers around the world. In 2006, he was named Researcher of the Year by Florida State Beekeepers for his work on fighting mites harmful to bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder covers numerous issues, but much of the problem is chemicals in the environment left from the use of herbicides and insecticides, he said.

Herbicides and pesticides break down and their parts can be more lethal, he said. Neonicotinoids (imidacloprids) persist in the environment and accumulate with repeated use, Amrine said.

Chlorinated nicotine in various types is used on practically every crop, he said.

“It’s really sad,” Amrine said.

Recognizing the effect on bees, Australia has limited the use of chemicals containing neonicotinoids while France, Italy and Germany have banned them, Amrine said. The United States has not because of the billions of dollar of revenue for the chemical companies, he said.

“No one has the courage to do something about it,” he said.

“I think Europe is setting the example,” Amrine said. “That’s the kind of thinking we’re going to have to have.”

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