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Losing the buzz?

Posted by seumasach on June 17, 2010

Pune Mirror

5th June, 2010

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ITNT Archives: disappearing bees

Humans will not be the lone beneficiaries of a study recently sought by the chief minister on the ill-effects of radiation from cellphones and Mumbai’s 1,000-plus cellphone towers.

The initiative may just come to the timely rescue of the city’s endangered honeybee population. And if you think that the bee is too small a concern to hit your radar, consider what Einstein said: If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live.

A recent experiment conducted by the Punjab University at Chandigarh reiterates the finding that honeybees are disappearing from their colonies because of the electro-pollution in the environment.

Rahul Khot, entomologist and research assistant at Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), said, “We desperately need a Mumbai-specific study on the effects of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) on the local bee population. With so many mobile towers and such extensive cell phone usage, bees are greatly endangered in our city.”

The recent experiment, which observed bee colonies exposed to mobile phone radiation, concluded, “At the end of the experiment, there was neither honey nor pollen in the beehives. It resulted in complete loss of the colony.”

The study found that the queen bee’s egg-laying capacity dropped drastically because of the radiation. The bees that went foraging could not find their way back to the beehives, according to the experiment.

The implications of these findings could be catastrophic for Mumbai. An expert from the BNHS said, “If the bees were to disappear from Mumbai the result would be disastrous.

It would cause a huge imbalance in the entire ecological system. Bees are not just one of the key pollinating agents but also an important part of the food chain.”

The Study

Ved Prakash Sharma and Neelima Kumar of Punjab University compared the behaviour and biology of honeybees in colonies exposed to cellphone radiation and those unexposed to it.

Two GSM cellphones of 900 Megahertz frequency were placed in call mode on two sidewalls of the bee hive, while two control colonies were left unexposed to cellphone radiation.

The test colonies had an exposure for 15 minutes, twice a day, during the period of peak bee activity for three months. “A significant decline in colony strength and in the queen’s egg-laying rate was observed.

The behaviour of exposed foragers was negatively influenced by the radiation exposure,” the study states. The duo analysed the phenomenon of what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

While several factors affect the honeybee, the electromagnetic field induced by cell towers are unravelling to be a prime concern.

“The bees became quiet and still or confused as if unable to decide what to do. Such a response has not been reported previously,” the study said.

Bees, which have magnetite in their bodies, utilise the earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Cell tower radiation interferes with this process.

Such conclusions have been drawn earlier too by Dr Sainudeen Pattazhy, a professor of Zoology in Kerala’s S N College in his last year’s study along the same lines.

His widely-referenced report states, “In one experiment, a mobile device was placed adjacent to bee hives for ten minutes for 5 to 10 days. After a few days, the worker bees never returned home.

The massive amount of radiation produced by towers and mobile phones is actually frying the navigational skills of the honey bees and preventing them from returning to their hives.”

The diminishing bee population is a grave cause of concern even in the West. Research shows that USA’s rapidly dwindling bee population is due to the “recent proliferation of electromagnetic waves for the sudden demise – often within 72 hours – of entire bee colonies.”

Constant electromagnetic background noise is found to disrupt communication amongst the bees in UK and elsewhere as well.

A 2003 study in Germany points out that “GSM cell phone radiation in the frequency range of 900 MHz to 1800 Hz caused the bees to avoid the hive.”

Why Mumbai should be worried

Cellphone Towers

Mumbai Mirror had reported in July 2009, with the help of an EMR-measuring agency, how five of the seven important locations in the heart of the city – like Mantralaya, Marine Drive, World Trade Centre and Breach Candy hospital – threw unacceptably high levels of mobile tower radiation.

The city has a very high number of cellphone towers, and residents have complained about health hazards.

Loss of habitat

Khot points out that honeybees need a specific habitat for their survival. “The large fruit trees that once adorned the city have disappeared, the architecture of buildings has changed, the lofts and crevices have given way to glass facades. Where will the bees make hives now?”

Wildlife biologist Anand Pendharkar says while Mumbaikars enjoyed their fix of honey, they were quick to destroy hives.

No food, no nectar

Pendharkar says, “Mumbai’s residents prefer ornamental plants. As a result, 60 per cent of the city’s green cover is comprised of exotic trees. For honeybees, these are as good as ‘plastic’ as they cannot draw nectar from them.

Trees like Jamun, Jackfruit, Neem, Mango and flowers like Champa and others provide nectar for the bees. But we hardly find these varieties in Mumbai any more.”

Heat and pollution

Another factor endangering the bees is the increasing heat and pollution in the city. Deputy Director, Maharashtra Nature Park, Avinash Kubal says, “The honeybees cannot survive in extreme heat.

A decade ago, you could see many hives around buildings. But we don’t any more. Earlier, there was enough greenery in the city but now the concrete cover has increased, leading to soaring temperatures.”

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