India study links bee decline to cell phones

Over the past several years the United States has seen a decline in the honey bee population that, by some estimates, is as much as 30%.

And a similar trend has been seen in other parts of the world.

A study done by Panjab University in Chandigarh, northern India, is linking that decline to cell phone usage.

The study fitted cell phones to bee hives and powered them up for two 15 minute periods each day.

After three months the study found the bees stopped producing honey, egg production by the queen was cut in half and the size of the hive had dramatically reduced.

KHQA's Jarod Wells talked to an entomologist at the University of Illinois, to find out if this study is sufficient enough to blame cell phones for the drop in bees.

Professor and head of the University of Illinois Department of Entomology May Berenbaum said, "The first striking appearance of a sudden increase in overwintering mortality was in 2006-2007."

Since then surveys have been done proving there is quite a big decrease in the bee population. But the cause may be disputed.

Berenbaum said, "There is basically no evidence what so ever that cell phone usage has anything to do at all with honey bees."

This expert says the northern India study has some serious methodological flaws.

Berenbaum said, "Among other things, lack of statistical, clear statistical methodology and extremely small sample sizes. Basically there were two experimental hives. To do colony level experimental work you need a minimum of 25 to 30 colonies because of the inter-colony variation."

The study involved actually placing a cell phone inside a hive.

Berenbaum said, "Any foreign object inside a hive will disrupt the functioning of a honey bee colony."

May Berenbaum says this was not a well designed study and does not do anything for the argument that cell phones have played a role in the bee decline. She says this decline has been sudden, within the past few years, while cell phones have been around for at least a decade. And some bee keepers have seen a decline in places where there isn't even cell phone reception. So what's the cause? The University of Illinois did its own study in 2009.

Berenbaum said, "So what appears to be happening to us is the colony collapse disorder may result from multiple virus infections that overwhelm the capacity of the honey bee to respond."

No matter what the cause of the decline, honey bees may be more important than we all realize. Berenbaum says they account for $19 billion in the United States.

Berenbaum said, "There's 90 crops produced in the U.S., over 90 crops that depend on honey bee population. It's really the only available managed pollinator."

Berenbaum told me it's been estimated that a third of the American diet depends on the pollination services of honey bees.

Here is a link to the CNN article about the study: