A text written for a series of podcasts curated by Vanessa Bartlett for Liverpool Biennial 2012. Based on the research of Dr Chris Connolly and his team’s research at the Division of Neuroscience at the University of Dundee.
The Scapegoat Parasite
Almost 100 years ago, on On Growth and Form Scottish biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson described the mathematical principals of honeycomb, likening bee construction techniques to cell division in embryology. Like all insects that weave webs and spin cocoons, bees represent interconnectedness; an individual colony is a microcosm of human society, or a mirror of electrical systems within the brain.
Worldwide, there is a decline in swifts, swallows and other birds, frogs, toads, bats and all species of insect including bumblebees and honeybees.
Researchers from the Division of Neuroscience at Dundee University are studying declining bee colonies in Scotland, and various factors involved, including the use of industrial pesticides, particularly the controversial group of neonicitinoids. The team’s research hives were stolen last year; it seems that this research is unpopular. Their research reveals an east/west divide in the loss of hives that doesn’t correspond to climatic or geographic expectations – unsurprisingly the greatest losses are occurring in regions of arable farmland.
They have also found the microspordian Nosema ceranae present in over 80% of Scottish hives, suggesting that pesticides are lowering the immune system of the bees leaving them susceptible to attack from this and other pathogens and parasites such as the varroa mite.
Two years ago in the UK, 73,578kg of neonicitinoids were applied over almost 3 million acres of farmland.
In the mammalian brain the hippocampus is involved with memory function and spatial navigation. In insects the equivalent brain structure is the mushroom body. Mushroom bodies exist as dense networks of neuronal processes, with excitation and inhibition receptors, which the Neonicitinoids specifically target. In honeybees a dose equivalent to 1 teaspoon in 1000 metric tonnes of water produces chronic changes in navigation and feeding activity, leaving bees stranded and unable to return to their hives, and in turn, the hives are unable to generate heat or energy to sustain life.