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Disappearing bees sting US agriculture
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Scientists are trying to solve a mystery critical to the future of American agriculture: Why are honeybee hives failing at an alarming rate?

Some researchers are studying whether pesticides and other chemicals used in fields and gardens might affect honeybees, as well as bumblebees and other insects that pollinate crops. Other research is focusing on building more habitat - planting trees, shrubs and flowers that pollinators prefer.

Bees are vital to US agriculture because they pollinate many flowering crops, including almonds, apples and blueberries.

The honeybees have taken a hit over the years from mites and, most recently, colony collapse disorder, in which beekeepers have found affected hives devoid of most bees. Bees that remain appear much weaker than normal.

Beekeepers in 2006 began reporting losing 30 percent to 90 percent of their hives. Since then the annual loss rate has been roughly 33 percent, according to government estimates.

The first case of colony collapse disorder was officially reported in Pennsylvania, and Penn State University has been spearheading research. Maryann Frazier of the school's entomology department said researchers remain concerned about the number and combination of pesticides that have been detected in decimated hives.

"We realize it's much more complicated than what we thought a year ago," Frazier said recently. "From what we know now, it's not something we'll figure out very, very quickly."

At the Environmental Research Institute at Eastern Kentucky University, apiculturalist Tammy Horn oversees an experiment in apiforestation, a term the school describes as a "new form of reclamation focused on planting pollinator-friendly flowers and trees."

Horn is working with local coal companies to plant trees, shrubs and native wildflowers on reclaimed lands. Local support from residents and coal companies has been encouraging to Horn. It helps that locals have family ties to beekeeping, with parents and grandparents perhaps dabbling in the hobby before it started to become less popular locally.

The idea could draw interest for similar projects in other parts of the country, including California and Pennsylvania.

(China Daily via Agencies January 6, 2009)

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