How many bees are there. And where are they? And who owns them?
Fortunately, samples are being collected and analyzed and the cause(s) of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) are becoming less obscure. Since so many possibilities have been eliminated as THE cause of CCD youd think the answer would be a cinch. But just to keep everybody honest theres still dozens of theories that are viable and not nearly enough hard science to prove any of them. Lets look at just one of the problems these researchers are having and why this answer isnt as simple as it might look.
First off, the technique for sampling colonies in the U.S. isnt well formulated yet. But its even more fundamental than that. The USDA, the scientists and even beekeepers dont know how many colonies there actually are in the U.S., and while were at it were not sure how many beekeepers there are either. There are some good and some bad estimates but sadly no definitive answers.
Why is this important? Well, for starters if you want a representative sample of how many of something exists, you have to know how many there are in total, and then take a representative sample to get good answer to your question. If you dont know how many there are all together the data collected from your representative sample isnt worth spit, scientifically speaking.
Conversely, if you take a sample from every beehive that exists your data will be nearly perfect but you will be analyzing samples until the cows come home. So the trick is to take enough samples so you are confident that you can say such and such a percent of all the beehives in the U.S. experienced CCD this past year. So somebody go and count beehives please, and the beekeepers who own them while youre at it.
If you are really curious about how many bees, or beekeepers there are you can contact the State Apiary Inspector in your state and ask how many beekeepers they think there are. Some states do a really good job of counting beekeepers, but not hives, some the other way around, and lots don't have a flippin' clue. They quit counting years ago because beekeeping wasn't important enough to fund. This'll teach 'em.
But let's say they send out an army of volunteers and actually find out how many hives and how many beekeepers there actually are (I'd bet even money that'll never happen because it's as difficult as counting people who have gardens ... and while you're at it, define a garden ... is a tomato plant in a pot on the deck a garden? Does one hive in the garden make you a beekeeper? Or a beekeeper worth counting? Just to make this more difficult but more accurate, the samples taken must reflect the actual total count...where do the beekeepers live for instance. They may find that there are something like 3 million hives in the U.S., and, say 100,000 beekeepers keeping them. It's easy to decide how many to sample to get a good representative sample (one you are confident in) but you can't take them all from Maryland and you can't take them all from small scale hobby beekeepers or industrial commercial beekeepers.
No, the representative samples have to be just that, representative.
If 20% of the hives in the U.S. are in South Dakota, then 20% of the samples taken have to be from the same place. And if 10% of the hives in the U.S. belong to hobby beekeepers then the sample must reflect that figure to be truly representative. On paper it's easy. In reality it's not. Why? because some number of beekeepers just left South Dakota for Idaho or California for a honey crop or a pollination job. Do you count them in South Dakota, or California, or Idaho?
There's more to why solving the Colony Collapse Disorder story isn't easy, but even so, some causes of CCD are beginning to rear their ugly heads and the answer may not be far away. Perhaps, as your mother used to say ...soon, we'll be there soon.
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