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Himalayas

Modern Man, and Climate Change Moving Bees Upward

Climate change is chasing the Himalayan cliff honey bees higher up the mountains.

Nepalese apiarists says the bees, known for their ingenuity in making colonies in places where humans and predators do not have easy access, have started migrating higher places to build their colonies.

They tell Nepal’s Republica newspaper they believe the move by the honey bees is mainly due to the effect of climate change.

As a result, people making their living by harvesting honey from the wild bee colonies now have to take more risks to reach the bees. At the same time, they say, the number of colonies in the usual areas has plummeted sharply.

Child Development Program director Suroj Pokharel, who has conducted research on the bees, says due to rising temperatures and the effect of climate change, the Himalayan cliff bees have started climbing higher to make hives.

He tells the newspaper that during the past 10 years the bees have moved 200 to 400 meters (656 ft. to 1,313 ft.) higher than their usual habitats.

“The species of honey bee found in the plains could be found up to the altitude of 1,100 meters (3,608 ft.) but now they have climbed 200 meters further up,” Pokharel says.

The Himalayan cliff bees used to climb down to 1,000 meters (3,260 ft.) to escape the cold during the winter, but now do not descend below 1,200 meters (3,937 ft.), he says. Similarly, the Himalayan bees, which were at an altitude of 3,100 meters (10,170 ft.), now are found at 3,500 meters (11,482 ft.).

“The change in the habitat of the bees can be attributed to the rising temperatures and the development of modern infrastructure including roads and buildings,” Pokharel says. “The Himalayan bees are no more found in the places where they were found until a decade ago.”

Pokharel says increasing dust and smoke in the villages and modern infrastructure is threatening the bees’ existence and the increasing use of insecticides has also taken a serious toll.

Climate change is also gradually altering the flowering time of the rhododendron, the main source of nectar for the Himalayan bees.

Queens

But How Does This Work In An Emergency Supercedure?

In a discovery that may be key to increasing agricultural economies worldwide, Michigan researchers have identified a single gene in honeybees that separates the queens from the workers.

A research team from Wayne State University, working with Michigan State University, has unraveled the gene's inner workings and published the results in the journal Biology Letters.

Principal investigator Aleksandar Popadic says the gene, which is responsible for leg and wing development, plays a crucial role in the evolution of bees' ability to carry pollen.

“The gene – Ultrabithorax, or Ubx – is responsible for making hind legs different from fore legs so they can carry pollen,” says Popadic, associate professor of biological sciences in Wayne State's College of Liberal Arts and Science.

“In some groups, like crickets, Ubx is responsible for creating a 'jumping' hind leg. In others, such as bees, it makes a pollen basket – a 'naked,' bristle-free leg region that creates a space for packing pollen."

MSU entomologist Zachary Huang says other studies have shed some light on this gene's role in this realm, “but our team examined in great detail how the modifications take place.”

Ubx represses the development of bristles on bees' hind legs, creating a smooth surface that can be used for packing pollen.

This makes the discovery important because what has been discovered can be used as a foray into more commercial studies focused on providing means to enhance a bee's pollination ability – the bigger the pollen basket, the more pollen that can be packed in it and transported back to the hive.

While workers have these distinct features, queens do not.

The team confirmed this by isolating and silencing Ubx. This made the pollen baskets completely disappear, altered the growth of the pollen comb and reduced the size of the pollen press.

Ubx is also expressed in the same region of the hind legs in bumble bees, which are in the same family as honey bees. This finding suggests the evolution of the pollen-gathering apparatus in all corbiculate bees may have a shared origin and could be traced to the acquisition of novel functions by Ubx.

The researchers also found that bees living in more complex social structures have an advantage over isolated populations in developing these important functions.

“The pollen baskets are much less elaborate or completely absent in bees that are less socially complex,” Huang says. “We conclude that the evolution of pollen baskets is a major innovation among social insects and is tied directly to more complex social behaviors.”

The value of agricultural crops dependent on honey bee pollination was estimated to be $14.6 billion a year in the U.S. in 2013.

Popadic and Huang says their findings, along with future research, may provide an option for improving the shrinking population of bees' pollen-collecting capacity, leading to increased pollination and hopeful increases in fruit and vegetable production.

The research was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

Taxes

Beekeepers Are Farmers

Legislation is under consideration to exempt the honey bee industry from Washington State’s draconian business and occupation (B&O) tax

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Honeyford expands the definition of agricultural products for purposes of the state B&O tax to include honey bee products and pollination services.

This will exempt them from the tax under the general agricultural product exemption. The exemption is permanent and not subject to the 10-year expiration date or a tax preference performance statement.

The effective date of the legislation will be 90 days after the adjournment of the session in which it is passed.

The legislation was proposed because an exemption from state B&O tax that applies to wholesale sales of honey bee products expires on July 1, 2017.

The state Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee approved the bill and referred it to the Ways and Means Committee.

Supporters say exempting beekeepers from the tax will help them be competitive with those from out of state.

“As with any business, the B&O tax can be a crippling obstacle to overcome and easing that burden will allow the industry to expand, grow and create more jobs,” Honeyford says in a statement.

Washington is the only state to impose a business and occupations tax, which is levied on the gross receipts of all business activities. Unlike a corporate net income tax, there are no deductions for the costs of doing business.

“Small businesses often struggle in their first several years just to make a profit; many in Washington fail as a result of hitting the low B&O threshold but ending up in the red and losing money,” Honeyford says.

The amount of the tax depends on the category of business conducted. The general tax rate on manufacturers and wholesalers is 0.484%. The general rate on retailers is 0.471%. The tax is levied on the gross receipts of all business activities, except utility activities, conducted within the state.

No category of state B&O tax applies to any farmer selling agricultural products at wholesale or to any farmer who grows agricultural products owned by others, such as custom feed operations. A farmer is defined as a person producing agricultural products for sale.

“Just as the state considers milk that comes from cows to be an agricultural product, so should it consider products derived from honey bees,” says Honeyford, who serves as ranking Republican on the committee

Committee notes with the bill say that 100 taxpayers will be affected by the legislation. The notes say that in 2009, beekeepers reported about $1.6 million in wholesale sales. The committee estimates the state government will lose about $7,000 a year from taxes on pollination services and $6,000 a year on tax revenue from the sale of honey bee products.

Washington State Beekeepers Association president Mark Emerich testified in favor of the change before the committee saying honey bees are an integral part of agriculture. He later told reporters he didn’t know of any other state where beekeeping wasn’t defined as being in agriculture.

Beekeepers say the tax also puts bee pollination services at a disadvantage because more than half of the state's pollination is carried out by out-of-state bee businesses and as only a handful register to pay the B&O tax and the state government did not know they were there.