Right after we decided to work on bees dramatic disparition, and to focus on pesticids, our first move was to try to determine if yes or no the project was realistic and had a chance to help beekeepers of the world. As we were not fully aware of bees conditions and that we wanted to get informations, we decided to contact people that would be aware of the the problem. That's how we get into contact with Mr. Phillipe Lecompte, president of the bees biodiversity network. The informations we get during our encounter was of critical importance and raised questions about the real causes of bees disparition. The video below, will change was you were thinking was the common truth about bees and beekeeping.
Pesticids : the black sheep
The first point raised during this video, is that pesticids wouldn't be the main cause of bees disparitions, but rather caused by the correlation between the lack of available food (00:38-01:00). Starved bees would start suffering development problem that would, in a second time, lead to pathologies. Bees would grows at the same time as an avaible ressource, when the ressource start to run out [IMAGE COURBE] bees collapse along with the ressource. It would be virus, that would be responsible of the colony collapse. while, at least it seems, the narrowed vision of the media focus the question exclusively towards pesticids.
For instance : Neocotinoids are deemed responsible of bees disorientation, which is one of the reasons bees disappear. At a normal state, for its first flight outside the hive, a bee has a 80% chances to come back. After a Varroa destruction infection, only 60% of bees make it back.
20 viruses are known to affect bees, and are present in every hive. The mix between parasites, viruses and ressources are the real factors leading to the actual degradation of bee's health. Varroa destructor represent a huge threat for beekeeping worldwide, the female Varroa feed herself on bee's blood, transmitting virus or bacteria. During massive infestations, it is possible to observe bees whitout wings, crawling on the floor, or completely deserted hive. All of these symptoms are known as varroose or varroase. Other parasites like Nosema ceranae show themselves detrimental in Europa and south Europa. The bacteria P. larvae (responsible of the american foolbrood), present in 1 out of 5 apiary and 1 out of 8 beehives, is the main factor of the bees current disparition in US.
The polinisators population, domestic or wild, cannot escape the impact of the massive industrial agriculture. They suffer of the destruction of their natural habitats, caused by agriculture and the intensive agricultural practice. Their area of natural repartition crossing unavoidably with space consacred to industrial agriculture. The fragmentation of naturals habitats, the developent of mono-culture leading to a lack of agriculture diversity within the direct area of an hive, are aggravating factors, synonym of desertication for bees.
The first part conclusion of our interview, is how wrong the consensus view of the problematic of bees really is.. The colony collapsing wouldn't be the result of only the pesticids, but rather multi factorial.
A sociological problem
In the second part of the video, we engaged the discussion toward a more sociological topic. Indeed how is it possible to have such an important majority of beekeepers that are ignoring the fact that their hives may be dying not because of pesticids but rather because of poor conditions of life, leading to the contamination of bees populations by pathogens. "One should not mix-up a technical and scientific approach and a political one" say Mr. Lecompte in our interview. The political power (at least in France) would be in the hand of amateurish beekeepers because of their number 3 times higher than that of professional beekeepers.
The problem is way deeper that what we initially thought, it would be the lack of understanding and knowledge of beekeepers of the reality of bees' health problems. Could it be a problem of education ? In france anybody, without any formation, can become a beekeeper. This bring us to a particular situation where amateurish beekeepers, that have the majority of their knowledge only through media and word-out-mouth, have the political power over professional beekeepers who (might) have a deeper understanding of the needs of hives. This situation seems to create a loophole where the majority choose a black sheep to their beekeeping problems : Pesticids and neonicotinoids in particular. We decided to question directly a great number of beekeepers through a survey we design, to determine if everything was true, you can find more information here
With more than 90% of french beekeepers (professionals and amateurish mix-up) that believe that pesticides are the main reasons of CCD, no wonders how the main problem is either unknown or avoided. Why is this the case ? Probably that is it simplier for beekeepers to find an easy target than incriminate themselves and the managing of their beehives. For instance the Canadian population of bees have drastically increased since 2011 (13% bees population increase), despite the fact that the fields are treated with neonicotinoids in West-Canada. The same situation occurs in Australia, that doesn't have varroa, stressing the fact that pathogens might be a bigger problem than pesticids.
In August, the United States of Environnement protection Agency, just published the first of four rapports on the use of neonicotinoids, and concluded that the risk for bees was minimal. The 2015 USDA rapport conclude : The Varroa is from far the most harmful to bees, it is closely related to the disparition of hibernating beehives.
An open question
The case against pathogens as the unique responsible of CCD seems to be closed.
What if it might be a little more complicated than that ?
Studies against neonicotinoids are legions. However it is hard to deny that the utilisation of pesticids lesds to very negatives effets on pollinisators insects.Varroa might be the main factors of CCD.
But what if, because of the use of pesticides, like neonicotinoids, bees are today more sensitive to varroa infections ? And if yes, why ?
In this context it is really hard to distinguish the effect of each parameter. The lack of knowledge about CCD actors and the lack of communication between beekeepers, researchers and the media participate in the spreading of CCD cases in Europe and in the world. Considering this fact, we made our project evolve in order to give a more appropriate answer to this problem. From a endongenous bacteria able to degrade pesticides to a system able to detect several factors connected to bee health, all of our encounter leads us to a better and more reality connected project.
A solutionOur idea to improve the situation, was to create a tool, that would give the knowlegde beekeepers lack, a tool that would help to monitor hives' health. Bee subtilis based project may be a solution to improve beekeepers awareness about CCD actors and give them an easy, quick and cheap tool to follow their beehives or apiary health state. This may prevent spreading of CCD or at least help beekeepers to control this phenomenon.
For researchers, it may be used as a detection kit for epidemiologic and correlation studies in order to fight against CCD and to better understand what are the main actors and develop tools against them. It may impact society because of the supposed implication of pesticides wich may be simply clarified with our system.
For more information you can visit hereto learn in detail how every steps of our adventure helped us to create BEE SUBTILIS.