Searching for causes of bee colony collapse

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The efforts of environmental scientist Chensheng (Alex) Lu to study the effects of pesticide exposure on honeybees were chronicled in a Boston Globe Magazine cover story on June 23. The article described how Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology in the Department of Environmental Health, and two Massachusetts colleagues — Northbridge beekeeper Ken Warchol and Holden entrepreneur Dick Callahan — started collaborating in 2009 to examine why bees had begun dying at alarming rates since 2006, in a phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder.” The article outlined the importance of bees to agriculture, political and business concerns surrounding the use of pesticides on crops, and the difficulty of pinpointing with certainty the causes of colony collapse.

In the article, Lu described visiting hives being studied in Worcester County, Mass. in spring 2011 and finding that those exposed to the pesticide imadacloprid — a commonly used neonicotinoid — were all dead. “This is the replication of ‘Silent Spring,’” he told the Globe. While pesticides are “a tool that we cannot afford to lose,” Lu added, he thinks there is a responsible way to use them. “I think it can be done,” he said.