Bee Science

BeeWeaver tries to stay on top of recent developments in the realm of bee science. We will attempt to abstract and discuss selected recent publications of note that bear upon important topics of concern to beekeepers, scientists, farmers and those interested in pollination, as well as the general public and policy makers. We will include citations to the literature to enable the reader to consult the original publication if needed. In most cases, the cited literature will be available databases, like the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health. Occasionally, citations will be to sources in the popular honey bee press, which may require the interested reader to pay for access through the publications website, or a visit to a good library, online or otherwise.

Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD is the name given to the recent losses of hundreds of thousands of honey bee colonies during the past 3 or 4 years under unusual circumstances. CCD remains a mysterious syndrome characterized by the sudden disappearance of most adult workers from the colony, leaving behind a hive or nest that contains adequate food resources, and often some immature bees in the embryo, pupal or larval stages (collectively called brood) and a handful of mostly young workers and/or the queen. Even if not all bees are completely dead, when only a queen and a handful of young of workers are the only individuals left in a hive then the colony is effectively dead. See vanEnglesdorp, D., et al., Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study. PLoS One. 2009; 4(8): e6481. Published online 2009 August 3. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006481.

The initial observations of extensive colony death with the phenotype of rapid disappearance of adult workers abandoning well provisioned hives began to accumulate in late 2006, and by early 2007 was appreciated as a potentially catastrophic situation. The USDA convened an emergency meeting of honey bee scientists and beekeepers at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center outside of Washington, DC in early 2007 in an attempt to organize an investigation and response to CCD. The Apiary Inspectors began a survey of the extent and circumstances of the sudden colony losses in an attempt to understand the scope of the problem and attempt to identify correlates for the development of CCD, like beekeeper management practices, geographic proximity to other CCD operations, and other factors that might have contributed to the problem. vanEngelsdorp D, Underwood R, Caron D, Hayes J., An estimate of managed colony losses in the winter of 2006–2007: a report commissioned by the Apiary Inspectors of America. Am Bee J.2007;147:599–603.

CCD represented a economically devastating condition for affected beekeepers. Moreover, had colony losses continued unabated or become even more widespread then the effective and efficient delivery of pollination services for agricultural crops and natural ecosystems would have been jeopardized. A Survey of Colony Losses in the US: Fall 2007 to Spring 2008. van Englesdorp, D., et al., PLoS ONE. 2008; 3(12): e4071. Published online 2008 December 30. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004071. PMCID: PMC2606032

The first paper appearing to identify an association between CCD and a pathogen was published in September of 2007, and reported that the presence of a relatively new honey bee virus, called Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) was a predictor for CCD. Cox-Foster, et al. A metagenomic survey of microbes in honey bee colony collapse disorder. Science. 2007 Oct 12;318(5848):283-7. Epub 2007 Sep 6. That same paper by Cox-Foster speculated that not only might IAPV cause CCD, but that IAPV may have been introduced bees imported from Australia.

Almost immediately USDA-ARS scientists were able to show that IAPV had actually been present in the US for several years prior to CCD, and long before the first bees were imported into the US from Australia, and that the speculation that IAPV had been vectored into the US on Australian bees was unfounded. Chen, Y. P., and J. D. Evans. 2007. Historical presence of Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus in honey bees from the United States. American Bee J. 1471027-1028.

Subsequent investigations involving more samples and more intensive scrutiny of a wide variety of agents possibly contributing to CCD, including pathogens, pesticides and parasites failed to uncover a smoking gun that might be described as the cause of CCD. In the authors own words, "Of the more than 200 variables we quantified in this study, 61 were found with enough frequency to permit meaningful comparisons between populations. None of these measures on its own could distinguish CCD from control colonies. Moreover, no single risk factor was found consistently or sufficiently abundantly in CCD colonies to suggest a single causal agent."

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