Ted talks and so do bee scientists. Maybe you know Ted. TED, actually with capital letters, stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and the TED Talks are a series of conferences with great (entertaining) speakers. The talks are filmed and then loaded to the TED Talks website, which has over 1,500 talks (by speakers such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Richard Dawkins, and a number of Nobel Prize winners) where anyone can watch them for free. Actually, the non-profit, Sapling Foundation, that hosts TED talks has released the talks into the Creative Commons, making them available for public use with a few restrictions.
You can see a really great TED Talk by Marla Spivak, one of the smartest of all bee researchers, at this link. Her 15-minute TED Talk lists three or four reasons bee colonies die off. Two of her explanations are basically aspects of the same thing – fundamental changes in agriculture, the other two are chemicals and pests.
So, here is a bit more detail on Marla Spivak’s list of the killers of bees. Very briefly (please watch her short video, Marla is a great speaker), the culprits are 1) diseases and pests – especially varroa mites, for transferring viruses and for beeing the bloodsuckers they are; 2) monoculture, which includes the collapse of the family farm and the loss of natural habitat, and has created ‘food deserts’ where only one meal is served (at most) for just a few weeks of the year; and, 3) chemicals, including insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and the break-down chemical compounds of these complex molecules. You can see these are inter-related. Farming changed, leading to huge efficient monoculture enterprises where pests proliferate unless controlled by chemicals while varroa weakens the bees so they are more vulnerable to the problems brought by chemicals and poor nutrition. The result? Not so good for honey bees.