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Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen
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Fruitless Fall

by Rowan Jacobsen

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A clear, concise overview of Colony Collapse Disorder and what it means for our continued ability to eat food. It's the descriptions of bee society and of the beekeepers who are fighting for their livelihood that keep the book from veering into dryness. These beekeepers, like their bees, are fascinatingly strange and appealing. ( )
  paperloverevolution | Mar 30, 2013 |
I bring home plenty of nonfiction books, but I almost never read them. After a few pages my eyes glaze over and I switch to fiction. This book was a huge surprise to me. I picked it up because I really wanted to know what was going on with the bees disappearing. I thought that I would just skim it and read the conclusion. It turned out to be a total page-turner. I stayed up late, I read the whole book in a couple of days. It's funny, it's suspenseful, it's really well-written. And it contains information that we as a society really need to know. I want everybody to read it. ( )
  sumariotter | Nov 2, 2011 |
You'd think this book would be depressing, but it was so interesting that I actually enjoyed reading it. Honeybees are fascinating, and Jacobsen takes you into their world, describing life from a bee's perspective. Their adaptations for communication and intelligence are so different from humans' that it's easy to overlook them, so this sort of work, written for a popular audience, is especially valuable. The rest of the book reads like a mystery: Why are the bees disappearing? The consequences are dire, but Jacobsen avoids fear-mongering and panic. He is thorough and balanced, and the reader comes away with a new respect for the incredible, interdependent web of life. ( )
  beccabgood1 | Jul 26, 2010 |
A Book Review by Victor Lorand of: Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen @2008

Rowan Jacobsen’s book is an outstanding work of investigative journalism on the impending collapse of the honey bee industry. I’ve attended meetings of the Tampa Bay Beekeeper’s Association the past year as a beginning hobbyist beekeeper, and heard direct reports from top experts. This book gave me an overview of what happened and is happening that I lacked in spite of having had the inside scoop. The news is beekeepers in the pollination business – people who make money by trucking their bees to fields and are paid by the hive for the bees’ pollination work, were and are continuing to experience heavy losses from an unknown malady given the name CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder.
Each winter since 2006, commercial beekeepers have been losing 25% and more of their hives. An average replacement cost of each hive, is about $100-$150, so a small commercial operation of say 400 hives, with an average loss of 25%, that would equal 100 hives x $100= $10,000 per year (minimum). A onetime loss in a decade would be sustainable, but not a yearly loss.
What’s happened to the bees is an unsolved whodunit. Put healthy bees in a collapsed nest, and the bees die. Israeli bee researchers found a disease called Israeli Acute paralysis virus. In 2004, IAPV was found in 25 of 30 samples taken from CCD colonies and was also found on bees imported from Australia and in royal jelly from China.
Early reports of CCD in 2004 coincided with bee operations which began importing bees from Australia. As a contraindication of suspicion of IAPV, at the same time, Australia was one of the few places not suffering from CCD. And Canada which has been importing Australian bees since 1987 had fewer Colony Collapse Disorder cases than the U.S.
In Nov. 2007, researcher found IAPV in U.S. bees frozen in 2002, before importation began. It was shortly thereafter found that IAPV was already distributed worldwide. IAPV also manifests differently than CCD. In CCD the bees disappear and are not found near the hive. IN IAPV, the bees have shivering wings, paralysis and die just outside the hive.

Meanwhile, beekeepers began to suspect a new class of systemic insecticides called Neonicotinoids. They mimic the effect of nicotine and are nerve poisons. Because insects have so few neurons, they are much more susceptible to their effects.
They are called”systemic”, because when applied, they go to every part of the plant: the roots, flowers, bark, stems, pollen, and nectar.
Insecticide producing companies claim the poisons are not present in high levels outside of the fields treated and that sublethal levels of neonicotinoids are not dangerous to bees.
Bee studies have shown that sublethal levels do affect bee’s memory and studies of the spread of imadicloprid, one of the main Neonicotinoids used (It’s in Advantage- the flea treatment for pets, it’s in Merit, the treatment for lawns and golf courses.
The U.S. Forest service is using it to battle the wooly adelgid, in the hemlocks from S. Carolina to Maine) show that it does spread to flowers surrounding treated fields. Plants grown from seeds soaked in imadicloprid will be full of it.
Over the years, beekeepers and farmers learned to communicate the need to know when crops are being sprayed, but the neonicotinoids changed the equation. They don’t wash off in the rain and they last for years in the soil, and they spread from the treated fields into the countryside.
In 1994, the year Gaucho a neonicotinoid pesticide was introduced in the France, French honey bees began disappearing, and the number of hives dwindled from 1.5 million in 1994, to below 1 million in 2001. The French called it Mad Bee disease. Inspite of a ban on use of imadicloprid in France, a 2002 survey found it in 49% of pollen samples. France continued to use imadicloprid in corn, which was banned there in 2004. Now in 2008, France’s bees are not doing better than those elsewhere in Europe.
What needs to be studied is the effect of sublethal doses of various pesticides over the life of a bee and their interactions with bee diseases and pests. It is suspected that doses that do not kill nevertheless have effects on the overall health and performance of bee colonies. Beekeepers suspect that the in areas near where neonicotinoids have been used, sublethal levels of these insecticides have weakened the bee’s immune systems, allowing other bee diseases and pests to get a foothold.
Another threat to the honey bee industry is the production of honey by the Chinese. The Chinese honey producers are heavily using chemicals that are banned in other countries to keep their bees free of disease, and exporting this contaminated honey at rock-bottom prices, making it impossible for U.S. beekeepers to make money by production of honey alone. The U.S. Introduced legislation requiring registration and payment by foreign honey importing companies and the Chinese simply create a new company each time they want to import more honey, and the old companies default on their payment. Reading this one wonders how is so easy for importing Chinese companies to dupe the U.S. regulatory bodies.
Jacobsen reports that the almond harvest in California is a goldmine worth 1 billion dollars, twice as big as the Californian wine industry. To produce these almonds, the growers need at least 1full (8-10 frames of bees in a 10 frame hive) active hive per acre for 2 weeks every February.
The bees must get to the flowers within the 1st three days of bloom, in order to produce almonds. If weather is poor, that will reduce the number of bee hours in the field and more hives per acre are needed. Most growers will have 2.3 hives per acre. Almond prices have gone up, and acreage of almonds has increased from 400,000 in the 1990s to 550,000 in 2005, to 670,000 in 2008 with expected earnings of $9,000/acre. Almond growers paid 50$ per hive in 2005, and now since the advent of CCD, $160 to $180 in 2008. In 2008, there were just enough bees to pollinate the almond groves.
Annual costs of maintaining a beehive is about $100, and hive will produce between $80-$160 worth of honey per year, so all the commercial beekeeper’s profit is in pollination. Almond pollen is not a good food for bees, and the oversupply of bees needed to produce almonds stresses the bees, making them susceptible to bee diseases and with the concentration of bees in the groves, disease transmission is enhanced making for heavy losses for the beekeepers. Beekeepers with hives in the almond groves are experiencing near unsustainable losses of 25-40% of their hives.
Beekeepers are finding that Queen Bees raised in hives treated with certain antibiotics or other chemicals designed to help bees fight various viruses and pests aren’t holding out as long or laying as robustly. Beeswax absorbs chemicals, and this same beeswax is remade into foundation sold to beekeepers for starting their new hives, so even beekeepers who are not treating their hives, unwittingly are exposing their bees to these same chemicals.
Jacobsen concludes that in the monocrop system of American farming, the honey bees are the first part beginning to fail. Time is needed to breed bees with resistance to diseases and pests, and farmers need to be educated about the dangers of systemic and other insecticides which are one leg of the chemical dependent monocrop system of farming in the U.S.
Honey bees have been in their current form for about 30 million years. Flowering plants got their foothold about 150 million years ago and rapidly coevolved with the insects. 300 million years ago, when plants made landfall there were only about 500 species of plants. By the end of the Cretaceous period, after the final dinosaur period, new plants emerged which instead of protecting their pollen and ovules from being eaten by beetles and other insects, instead advertised with colors, patterns, and odors- in other words, flowers. With flowers insects take the pollen to other plants of the same species instead of relying on the wind. From the beginning of the Cretaceous period there were 3,000 plants, and by the end there were 22,000. This was called the angiosperm explosion. Nowadays there are upwards of 250,000-400,000 species of plants, the majority of which are angiosperms.
80-100 million years ago, some wasps began to eat pollen, these were the first bees. Bees have little hairs all over their body which the pollen attaches to. Flowers began to offer nectar in addition to pollen. Some flowers specialized to attract particular insects; others chose to appeal to a variety of insects- such as dandelions.
Dandelions open at 9am.which is when most pollinators insects begin their day. They close at night and stay closed on rainy days. They have short yellow easily accessible flowers, but with only a little nectar. They are visited by 100s of insects from flies to bumblebees, but with the low amount of nectar, these insects are not “loyal” to dandelions. This is not a problem for dandelions, since they grow in big patches and are not rare.
In China, beekeepers won’t bring their bees to the heavily insecticide sprayed pear tree orchards, so laborers are hired to climb the pear trees and pollinate every flower. In Mexico, vanilla farmers must do the pollination work of the wiped out stingless melipona bees, making it the most labor intensive crop in the world.
As pollinator numbers go down, the plants that depend on them dwindle also. There has also been a decline in numbers of entomologists who can study this decline. Many bumble bee species have been disappearing all over the U.S. since the 1990s. In 1992, and 1994 greenhouse commercially raised bumble bees were introduced from Europe that carried a strain of nosema (a unicellular parasite of bees, also on the suspect list of contributors to CCD)
Another threat to the bees is pollution. Pollution destroys flower scent. In unpolluted air, a flower scent can carry for a mile, in city air it only reaches 1/5th mile. It is tempting to tell many more such important facts and discoveries about bees, instead I will simply recommend reading it. This book’s title was inspired by Rachel Carson who, hoping to shake people out of taking nature for granted, famously predicted a silent spring, and a fruitless fall.
  vlorand | Feb 3, 2009 |
Bees, strange and familiar creatures, sympathetic honey producers and stinging pests, are lovingly portrayed in this excellent book which is part biology, part ecology and agro-business, all wrapped in a mystery. Rowan Jacobsen has written a highly readable introduction to bees, their keepers, their industry and ecology. His description of bee copulation (with a host of petites morts) is worth the price of admission.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) describes a phenomenon of sudden death of a beehive (with missing bodies). The following might be spoilerish, so read at your own peril: CCD is most likely caused by a combination of stress and malnutrition. Modern bees face a relentless onslaught of diseases, parasites and pesticides (directed at other insects).

In the US, honey production itself is no longer profitable in a large scale monoculture agrobusiness world (as well as cheap Chinese imports). Beekeepers in search of money truck their hives across the US offering pollination services (especially to California's almond growers), sacrificing their stressed and malnutritioned bees - pollinate until their hives collapse.

The solution lies in more natural ways of farming (d'oh): Importing African and Russian bees (which are tougher strains than the docile but vulnerable sunny Italian bees), non-chemical pest control and a varied pollen diet. ( )
  jcbrunner | Dec 15, 2008 |
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Traces the significant 2007 and 2008 reductions in honeybee populations, identifying the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder to explain the link between bee pollination and industrial agriculture and predicts dangerous reductions in food output.

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