(Sent to me by Jim Burke, The Bronze Group, LLC, www.thebronzegroup.com - thank you, Jim)
Scientists looking into a mysterious ailment killing off honeybees are hoping to find answers out West, where bees are currently helping pollinate California's profitable almond crop.
Beekeepers from around the country each year flock to the Golden State this time of year, releasing their insects to jump-start the $1.4 billion California almond crop.
Researchers hope the diversity gives them a large sample from which to figure out why some bees remain healthy while others become afflicted with an illness called colony collapse disorder.
The ailment has killed off tens of thousands of honeybee colonies in at least 21 states, researchers said, threatening the livelihood of commercial beekeepers and potentially putting a strain on fruit growers and other farmers that rely on bees to pollinate their crops.
The expedition to California couldn't have come at a better time for researchers scrambling for answers. About half of the nation's available commercial bees are transported to California each February for the task, when trees burst with light pink-and-white blossom.
Marsha Venable, spokeswoman for the Almond Board of California, which represents growers, said a group task force assigned to monitor the situation found that there was no bee shortage this year.
"There's a sense of comfort of enough bees to do the job," Venable said Monday by phone. California accounts for 80 percent of the world's almonds, according to that state's food and agriculture department.
But bee researchers from Pennsylvania and Montana who have spent the last couple weeks in California collecting test samples said they have heard stories of beekeepers having lost colonies by the thousands, forcing them to return home with no work and few bees.
"One yard had colonies that were failing. One was one of the worst cases we've seen," University of Montana bee researcher Jerry Bromenshenk said in a phone interview Monday. "That's why we are all focused in California at this point."
Michigan had first signs of illness
The first report of colony collapse disorder came to researchers at Penn State University in November, though scientists now think that the problem may have been around as early as a couple years ago.
Bromenshenk is also president of Bee Alert Technology Inc., a Missoula, Mont.-based firm that is surveying beekeepers to determine the geographic extent of the problem.
While there are no definitive answers, he said survey results so far show the first signs of the illness may have popped up in Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa.