Two recent articles in World Watch magazine(no longer published) by Mr. Chris Bright have focused on the surprise factor involved when biological systems are disrupted. The first “Crawling Out of the Pipe: The Hazardous Waste That Makes More of Itself,” (Vol. 12: No. 1, pp. 22-33, January/February 1999) focuses on the accelerating spread of biological material around the globe.
Examples are legion. These include introduction of exotic plants such as water hyacinth, purple loosestrife, knotweeds, and salt cedars or tamarisks. Other introduced organisms include everything from Asian tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus) to walking catfish, zebra mussels and honey bees. Yes, Apis mellifera is also an exotic, brought to the Americas from Europe. It surprised the aborigines in North America, who called it “the white man’s fly.” Apis too has also been affected by several organisms introduced to its adopted land that surprised beekeepers, including tracheal and Varroa mites, and the South African small hive beetle, just discovered in the U.S. in 1998.
Although problematic in its own right, Mr. Bright also discusses something more insidious than the introduction itself. He calls this “The Nemesis Effect” (Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 12-23, May/June 1999). It is a result of the system’s response to an introduction. As Mr. Bright concludes, “… effects are determined, not just by the activities that initially produced them, but by each other and by the ways ecosystems respond to them. They are in other words part of an enormously complex system. And unless we can learn to see them within the system, we have no hope of anticipating the damage they do.”
Beekeeping a microcosm of both Mr. Bright’s concerns. Introduced organisms have dramatically affected both the honey bee itself and its management. In general, these have without exception driven costs up and eroded the bees’ productivity. The introductions, however, may be more problematic precisely because their final results are indirect and not easily detected within the context of the honey bee system (colony). One example is appearance of parasitic mite syndrome (BPMS), a new bee disease lacking a common symptomology and no specific, identified causal organism. Varroa has also transformed itself into a virulent virus vector whereas originally it was looked at as a classic parasite.
The effects of sublethal dosages of fluvalinate and other pesticides on queens and drones also have surprised us. They have been found to effect reproduction via effects on queens and more surpisingly drones. At the same time the mites themselves are becoming resistant to many chemicals. Beekeepers also put grease patties, essential oils, smoke and other chemicals into colonies in an attempt to manage certain conditions. The number of surprises that might surface due to these materials used alone, or in concert with each other through synergism, is unknown. The Nemesis Effect should give all beekeepers pause when contemplating more extensive use of substances in their colonies to control predators and/or pests.