Study of the Colony Collapse Disorder Continues as Bee Colonies Continue to Disappear

Posted on January 19, 2012  Comments (1)

I can understand why people get complacent. We have a pretty remarkable run of science and technology finding solutions for whatever peril we face.

Also, quite often, future risks are over-blown. Then, people get habituated to reading ominous predictions, followed by a future doesn’t seem to reach those dramatic predictions. But this is a risky pattern to just expect – that no matter what we will figure out some way to avoid the consequences.

Risks actually do come true. The obvious result of overfishing, just as predicted, has resulted in collapses of fish populations over and over creating great hardship for those who had fallen victim to that prediction. If people don’t vaccinate themselves (and their kids) we will have ever increasing numbers of deaths and sickness. If we fail to use anti-biotics is a long term sustainable way, our actions will result in many deaths.

I am not sure why we find it so easy to ignore the evidence of bad consequences but we do. Partially I would imagine that as problems begin to be manifest countermeasures take affect. So in the fishing example, many people leave that line of work and so the numbers in the industry after a collapse, who are suffering in the present, are reduced. Still I find it odd how easily we ignore the risks in the future.

I do understand if there are short term benefits to ignoring the risks (or pretending they don’t exist): so you have fisherman that don’t want to take steps in advance to avoid collapse. Or you have industries and politicians that want to pretend ignoring global warming is a strategy to avoid the consequences. Or you have parents that say, well today we don’t have many risks of sicknesses people get vaccinated against (yes, because people have been vaccinated – if you stop vaccinating your children they we get to experience the avoidable pain and suffering).

I have been following the honeybee colony collapse disorder for several years (see the end of the posts for links to posts from 2006 – 2010, like this one The Study of Bee Colony Collapses Continues from 2007). It is a great example of the scientific inquiry process. It is messy and confusing and full of studies that have trouble finding what the actually causes are or what solutions will work.

There are occasionally mentions of how devestating things could get if the trend continues. In fact stories that seem so devestating that they just don’t seem real. surely either that won’t happen or if it started to some countermeasure would be found to deal with the problem and avoid the most severe consequences. That is basially how I have felt about it. But that is not because of some scientific understanding but just a feeling that hey that couldn’t really happen. Well that isn’t exactly solid evidence that it can’t.

Honeybee problem nearing a ‘critical point’

In addition to continued reports of CCD — a still somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies literally disappear, alien-abduction style, leaving not even their dead bodies behind — bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.

farmers use these chemicals to protect their crops from destructive insects, but in so doing, they harm other insects essential to their crops’ production — a catch-22 that Hackenberg said speaks to the fact that “we have become a nation driven by the chemical industry.” In addition to beekeeping, he owns two farms, and even when crop analysts recommend spraying pesticides on his crops to kill an aphid population, for example, he knows that “if I spray, I’m going to kill all the beneficial insects.” But most farmers, lacking Hackenberg’s awareness of bee populations, follow the advice of the crop adviser — who, these days, is likely to be paid by the chemical industry, rather than by a state university or another independent entity.

I believe this is the latest advise of the Unites States Department of Agriculture (though their web site doesn’t make it nearly as obvious as it should that this is in fact the current advice – the document seems to indicate it is but if someone were to say no, that is outdated, it wouldn’t be hard to believe)

Since little is known about the cause(s) of CCD right now, mitigation must be based on improving general honey bee health and habitat and countering known mortality factors by using best management practices.

One of the latest research papers on CCD suggest a parasitic fly may be a leading cause: A New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus borealis

Honey bee colonies are subject to numerous pathogens and parasites. Interaction among multiple pathogens and parasites is the proposed cause for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a syndrome characterized by worker bees abandoning their hive. Here we provide the first documentation that the phorid fly Apocephalus borealis, previously known to parasitize bumble bees, also infects and eventually kills honey bees and may pose an emerging threat to North American apiculture.

Parasitized honey bees show hive abandonment behavior, leaving their hives at night and dying shortly thereafter. On average, seven days later up to 13 phorid larvae emerge from each dead bee and pupate away from the bee. Using DNA barcoding, we confirmed that phorids that emerged from honey bees and bumble bees were the same species. Microarray analyses of honey bees from infected hives revealed that these bees are often infected with deformed wing virus and Nosema ceranae. Larvae and adult phorids also tested positive for these pathogens, implicating the fly as a potential vector or reservoir of these honey bee pathogens. Phorid parasitism may affect hive viability since 77% of sites sampled in the San Francisco Bay Area were infected by the fly and microarray analyses detected phorids in commercial hives in South Dakota and California’s Central Valley. Understanding details of phorid infection may shed light on similar hive abandonment behaviors seen in CCD.

It is too soon to know if this is really the largest cause of CCD. And also too soon to know what the potential for combatting CCD will be if this is a leading cause. The process of science continues. And while this effort may seem far away from your local grocery store it isn’t certain that every time science will ride to rescue.

Related: Bee Colonies Continue to Collapse (2010)Continuing Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (2009)Scientists Search for Clues To Bee Mystery (2008)Virus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Colapse Disorder (2007)Bye Bye Bees (2006)

One Response to “Study of the Colony Collapse Disorder Continues as Bee Colonies Continue to Disappear”

  1. David Bennett
    January 24th, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

    I also have been following CCD for a while. I started curating articles on Amplify, and lately on and just recently I started a page on my own site where I have begun transferring references and links to the various articles on CCD

    My money is on neonicotinoid pesticides being the cause.

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