Scientists investigating a mysterious ailment that killed many of the nation's honeybees are concentrating on pesticides and a new pathogen as possible culprits, and some beekeepers are already trying to keep their colonies away from pesticide-exposed fields. After months of study, researchers are finding it difficult to tie the die-off to any single factor, said Maryann Frazier, a senior extension associate in Penn State University's entomology department. “Two things right now ... that are really keeping us focused are the pathogen and the role of pesticides,” Frazier said. Scientists from Penn State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are leading the research into colony-collapse disorder, including study of the yet-to-be identified pathogen, a microorganism capable of causing disease. But commercial beekeeper David Hackenberg isn't waiting to take action. He's asking growers whether they use pesticides on fields before bringing his bees for pollination.
Honeybees don't just make honey; they pollinate more than 90 tasty flowering crops, including apples, nuts and citrus fruit. Hackenberg, 58, trucks his bees around the country for pollination — from oranges in Florida to blueberries in Maine. He was the first beekeeper to report the disorder to Penn State researchers last fall, having lost nearly 75 percent of his 3,200 colonies. He said he is convinced pesticides, and in particular a kind of pesticide called neonicotinoids, were harming his bees.
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