Mobile phones blamed for declining bee populations

Scientists struggling to explain the decline in bee populations in certain parts of the world believe they may have discovered the cause of what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – phone handsets.

CCD occurs when bees suddenly desert a hive. No-one knows where they go, nor do they know why the empty hive fails to attract the parasites, wildlife and other bees that would normally raid the honey and pollen left behind.

Several explanations have been suggested, including the presence of mites, pesticides, global warming and the farming of GM crops. But researchers at Landau University in Germany believe that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones could be the cause.

An admittedly limited study found that when cordless-phone docking units (which produce less electromagnetic radiation than mobile phones) were placed near to a hive, the bees refuse to return to their home. The researchers think that radiation from the phones confuses the bees’ navigation system, so they simply cannot find their way back to the hive.

The scale of CCD was first acknowledged last Autumn, when bee populations were found to be declining in half the US states. The phenomenon has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece and has been reported in the UK, though the government denies it. Since most of the world’s crops depend on bees for cross-pollination, CCD could have a huge impact on global food supplies. Albert Einstein once said that if bees became extinct, mankind would have just four years to live.

But, as Brian Dennis of the UK’s Bee Improvement and Bee Breeding Association points out, the findings of the Landau study are inconclusive: ‘Until someone does a large study, it is hard to be sure,’ he said.

Others have also observed that hive-dwelling bees (Apis mellifera or honey bee) are just a small part of the total bee population, albeit the part that makes honey. Halictidae is the most common species of bee in the northern hemisphere and it nests in the ground. Pesticides are its biggest threat.

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