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So someone I know posted a link to this Inhabitat Blog article on Facebook.

Scientists may have found the cause of the world’s sudden dwindling population of bees – and cell phones may be to blame. Research conducted in Lausanne, Switzerland has shown that the signal from cell phones not only confuses bees, but also may lead to their death. Over 83 experiments have yielded the same results.

Led by researcher Daniel Favre, the alarming study found that bees reacted significantly to cell phones that were placed near or in hives in call-making mode. The bees sensed the signals transmitted when the phones rang, and emitted heavy buzzing noise during the calls.

I find the argument makes sense on the surface, but doesn't seem to hold up under scrutiny.

  • The title says 'It's Official' but the text in the article is less confident
  • Placing a mobile phone directly beneath a hive is hardly a 'real world' situation
  • The Daily Mail is cited as a source.

So, is it likely that mobile phone use is causing a decline in honey bee population?

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very similar to skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/286/… –  Monkey Tuesday May 14 '11 at 8:51
2  
If a mobile phone rings within a honey bee colony the bee's get irritated. Suprise? In real life I don't think that many bee hives contain cell phone that ring frequently. –  Christian Sep 24 '12 at 12:14

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The claim that the mobile phone signals lead to bee or hive death has been debunked (and the meme's progress tracked) by Clean Technica.

The claim was based on incorrect interpretation of the original findings of Dr Daniel Favre. The study can be found here:

... In the present study, electromagnetic waves originating from mobile phones were tested for potential effects on honeybee behavior. Mobile phone handsets were placed in the close vicinity of honeybees. The sound made by the bees was recorded and analyzed.

The audiograms and spectrograms revealed that active mobile phone handsets have a dramatic impact on the behavior of the bees, namely by inducing the worker piping signal.

In natural conditions, worker piping either announces the swarming process of the bee colony or is a signal of a disturbed bee colony.


Please note that the bees did NOT die, nor did the colony collapse.

The study itself says so: (paragraph 17)

“The study did not show that mobile phones were deadly for bees”

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I tend to go with the explanation that colony collapse is caused by a virus and fungus acting together, as described by Ars Technica.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD), wherein entire bee colonies die suddenly for unknown reasons, has been a concern for scientists and beekeepers since 2006. CCD swept bee colonies throughout the world, killing them off in no discernible pattern and generally freaking everyone out. Naturally, some people blamed cellphones.

While a lot of research has been done to try and sort out the cause, some of the conclusions have been contradictory—for instance, researchers in Spain pinpointed the fungus Nosema ceranae as the cause, while a study in the US found no correlation between the two.

In this new study, researchers looked at bee colonies that had died off due to CCD, or were in the process of failing, and compared them to a few that had no history of the problem. They couldn't pin down a single pathogen as the problem—however, they could pin down two.

However, this study is questionable for two reasons. First, the authors had a conflict of interest, in that the study was funded by a pesticide company that would not be predisposed to blame themselves for the problem. Second, the link is correlative, not causative, meaning that they could show the combination infection in collapsing colonies and not in healthy one. So, still up in the air, from what I can gather.

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Given this is a discussion about how a technical news web-log may have mangled some science, it would be better to go to the original source of the science rather than relying on Ars Technica - another non-peer-reviewed technical news blog. –  Oddthinking Jan 16 '13 at 23:06

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