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ASU Research Studying Reasons For Bee Population Decline

(Photo courtesy of Camille Storch)
Beekeeper Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey holds a frame of bees.

You know that sound … honeybees! They might be a hazard at a picnic, but they are also a critical part of our our country’s agricultural system.

But there aren’t as many bees buzzing as before. Last year, U.S. beekeepers lost almost half of their colonies. And that’s despite efforts to turn the tide.

We still don’t really understand why this is happening. Scientists think it has to do with habitat loss and environmental issues like pesticides and fungicides. And now, some new research out of Arizona State University is digging into the reasons behind this.

I spoke with one of the researchers more about this. Jon Harrison is a professor in the School of Life Sciences at ASU who studies insect physiology. He told me that even fungicides the EPA labels as “safe” might actually be bad for bees. His team studied one of these fungicides, called Pristine, and they found it had negative effects on these pollinators.

Harrison’s team at ASU just received a 3-year grant to study this further. He says they want to look at individual bees to see if they can detoxify these pesticides and see what happens at the whole colony level when bees are exposed.

“A lot of people may not realize that for those crops to mature or produce high yields, they truck in hundreds-and-hundreds of honeybee colonies and have them there for the whole flowering period. It’s a very critical part of the agricultural process,” Harrison said.

But there’s another side to this issue — a commercial side. As Harrison mentioned there, there is an entire industry of professional migratory beekeepers who travel the country with colonies of bees to pollinate fields for crop growers. It’s a critical part of the agricultural industry.

So, I also spoke with one of those beekeepers. Henry Storch and his wife own Old Blue Raw Honey in Oregon, and he is a migratory beekeeper.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.