Mobile phones threaten bees

Focus, Normal

The National, Monday, May 16, 2011

AS if cellphones aren’t already blamed for enough of the world’s evils – brain cancer, driving accidents and teen tragedies, to name a few – a new study suggests they could also be harming honeybees.
According to a Swiss researcher who recently published a paper on the subject, the electromagnetic waves from mobile phones have a significant impact on the behaviour of honeybees and could potentially be harming honeybees around the world.
“Among other factors, such as the varroa mite and pesticides, signals from mobile phones and masts could be contributing to the decline of honeybees around the world,” Daniel Favre, a Swiss biologist and bee expert, said in a statement.
“I am calling on the international scientific community for more research in this field.”
To test the relationship between honeybees and buzzing cellphones, he placed phones inside bee hives and then monitored the bees’ reaction.
He found that, in the presence of actively communicating cellphones (those not in standby mode), bees produced the sounds known as “worker piping”, which tends to indicate disturbance in a bee colony.
“Worker piping in a bee colony is not frequent and, when it occurs in a colony, that is not in a swarming process, no more than two bees are simultaneously active.
“The induction of honeybee worker piping by the electromagnetic fields of mobile phones might have dramatic consequences in terms of colony losses due to unexpected swarming,” the study said.
Over the past few years, beekeepers across the United States had reported unusually large numbers of dying bees, igniting worldwide interest in the much-hyped mystery.
Though this recent study had produced a spate of news headlines, suggesting that cellphones could be the culprit, experts emphasised that this was likely not the case.
In an email, Favre himself said his research did not conclusively prove that cellphones were killing honeybees, but showed evidence that they impact bees’ behaviour and, he hoped that would lead to more research on the connection.
Dennis vanEngelsdorp of Penn State University’s college of agricultural sciences said while the study might show that a cellphone placed artificially close to bees could harm the colony, he said it did not mean that cellphones were responsible for the unusually large losses of bees documented in recent years.
“If cellphones are so responsible and so widespread, I think we will see more consistent losses,” he said.
Over the past few years, he said, national studies had found that beekeepers in the US were losing 30% of their bee colonies over the winter, which was about double what they considered to be normal.
In Europe, beekeepers reported winter losses of about 20% , he said.
Much of the recent interest in dying bees was sparked by reports of what is known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) – bees suddenly disappearing from the hive – which partly contributes to the widespread decline of bees.
 vanEngelsdorp said scientists now had a clearer sense of what was causing the widespread collapse of bee colonies. – ABC