New Funding For Oregon State To Research Missing Bees

This story was written by Craig Bidiman, OSU Daily Barometer
On June 27, the Joint Legislative Emergency Board approved a $215,000 emergency package to fund three honeybee research positions at OSU.

The funding will lead to the researchers acquiring more information to help identify the underlying cause of why the number of beehives in Oregon and most of the United States has depleted in recent years.

The University hasn't had a full-time bee specialist since the 1990s, when they were forced to terminate the position due to budget cuts.However, budget cuts are not the problem now; these days, the major question is the number of bees practically vanishing into thin air.David Bradshaw, a Californian beekeeper, found that nearly 50 million of his bees had disappeared in early 2008.

"I have never seen anything like it," he said in an interview with the New York Times. "Box after box after box are just empty. There's nobody home."

A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts.In addition, the Apiary Inspectors of America found that the number of bees in managed colonies fell 36 percent last winter.

According to the Times' article, some beekeepers on the East Coast and in Texas have reported losses of more than 70 percent of their hives.

Beekeepers consider a loss of up to 20 percent in the off-season to be normal.It is because of statistics like these that OSU's college of agriculture has sought answers to this epidemic.

"We can't underestimate this threat. Without bees, entire agricultural industries in Oregon could disappear," Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappose) said in a press release regarding the research funding.Jim Young, lead scientist and OSU Insect Clinic entomologist, plans to analyze random samples of honeybees from across the state to form a general assessment of the health of hives.So far in his research, Young has found that some beekeepers feel the depletion of adult bees in the colonies - a phenomenon referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder - may be caused by a virus which has spread to many states, including Oregon.

The university hopes to have two full-time research and extension faculty members hired by September after they have finished their nationwide search.One position will be for a lead scientist to identify and work to resolve problems facing honeybees in Oregon.

The other position will be to assist Young, who currently only devotes four hours a week to specialized honeybee research. With the new funding, he will up that to ten hours a week.Young also happens to be the only OSU employee paid to handle the issues of honeybees, while Professor Emeritus Michael Burgett isn't paid to handle the questions of the public, and yet still does.

He and a few colleagues from other universities received a grant earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find out how many honeybee colonies have died in Oregon, Washington and Idaho in the past year. They are also going to be looking into the economic impact of these depletions.Their findings are expected to be published in December or January.