MOSCOW, Idaho Washington State University is joining several other universities nationwide to find potential remedies for dwindling commercial and wild honeybee populations.
The university's long-term goal in researching honeybee shortages, a phenomenon researchers have labeled "colony collapse disorder," is to develop a genetic strain of bees that are more resistant to many of the diseases, parasites and other external factors hurting honeybee populations.
A team of university graduate and undergraduate students at the university has been working with honeybee genetics since the introduction of the school's honeybee breeding program in 2001.
"The breeding program is part of the long-term solution," WSU entomology professor Steve Sheppard told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
If the honeybee shortage worsens, it could have significant impacts on agriculture, said Richard Zack, WSU Entomology Department chairman.
Honeybees pollinate fruits including apples and peaches, raspberries and melons and most vegetable seed crops, including broccoli, celery, squash and cucumbers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants. The honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.
If honeybee populations continue to decline, farmers could face increased production costs and consumers could ultimately have to pay more for produce.
The number of managed honeybee colonies in the United States has dropped from an estimated 5 million in the 1940s to 2.1 million today. The number decreased dramatically in the 1990s due to mites, parasites and diseases.
WSU researchers believe the most likely culprits of honeybee shortages today are pesticides, viruses, bacteria, internal and external parasites, changes in the environment, urbanization and agriculture.