Francis L. W. Ratnieks
Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QG

Dear Francis Ratnieks:

I read your article (Clarity on Honey Bee Collapse, Francis L. W. Ratnieks, and Norman L. Carrick SCIENCE vol. 327. no. 5962 January 8, 2010 page 152) with interest.  I see that honeybee hive collapse, whereby the bees desert the hive leaving untended young, remains a mystery.  I have a suggestion.  This may be counterintuitive, but you did mention mobile phones and genetically modified crops, and this idea is at least better than those.  You say those explanations were “dismissed,” which probably means they were simply laughed out of court.  However if science has proceeded as advertised it means that a serious search was made for evidence and none was found.  I hope that is the case and that this will similarly receive enough attention to rule it in or out.  It would not be difficult so to do. 

It has been shown that in most animals fertility is determined by population size.  Bigger populations are less fertile.  This effect increases until fertility is below replacement.  The logical conclusion is that at enormous population sizes there will be an inevitable population collapse.  Evidence and references are on the enclosed DVD. 

Years ago, when this phenomenon was in the news, an informal newspaper article I saw mentioned that there were two kinds of beekeepers in the United States with little overlap.  One kind was the mom and pop operation with a few hives servicing a group of friends.  The other was an industrial scale commercial operation that shipped the hives around in scores on flatbed trailers and served agribusiness.  At that time it appeared to be that the big operations were having problems and the small operations were being spared.

If that were all there was to it, then an explanation seemed very inviting.  The big commercial outfits had generally exceeded the maximum effective population size that the bees could survive.  Bees were mating in enormous gene pools.  The smaller operations on the other hand were exposing bees to no larger a gene pool than had been successful over eons. 

The fact that hive abandonment has been noticed for many years is no evidence against such an effect.  If this mechanism is at fault, it could well have happened before but would simply have been quite rare compared with current times.

The proof or disproof should not be difficult.  If this infertility through large gene pool size is the cause, then it is very strong.  Otherwise it is non existent.  There is not much room for anything in between.  All that is needed is a few dozen cases.

So if the spirit moves you, get a list of some dozens of mom and pop style operations.  After all the work you have already done, this should be fairly easy.  Then just phone them up and ask two questions.  1) Have you had abandoned hives and when?  They should be able to answer that in an instant.  2) Have you ever had your hives deployed within the range (I understand it is a couple of miles.) of the deployment of a commercial operation and when?  I imagine that would be another thing they would know without even having made any formal record.  In fact I would guess that your biggest problem would be extracting yourself from the conversation once you had raised the question and gathered the fact. 

What you might find would be this: those small operations that had been spared had rarely if ever been in a position to have their bees mating with those of large operations.  Those that had suffered had had a lot of exposure. 

I have seen enough evidence so that I would be happy to stake my life on the proposition that for genetic reasons fertility crisis follows excess gene pool size.  I would not be so rash in this case without a lot more information. 

But the study would be easy.  If positive it would be of enormous interest.  I hope you will take the bait.  There is more evidence, along with my correspondence on this matter, at  If I can be of any further assistance, please let me know.


M. Linton Herbert MD and

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