Friday, October 08, 2010

One-Two Punch: Virus/Fungus Found to Cause Bee Colony Collapse

This fascinating story comes from the New York Times front page (A1) on October 7: Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery.  The fate of honeybees is of critical importance for ecosystems generally and human food supply, specifically, as has been documented in countless other publications and news stories (search: CCD colony collapse honey bees in google and the result is overwhelming).  This book provides good background information: A world without bees / Alison Benjamin, Brian McCallum.

The U.S. House of Representatives held a Hearing to review the status of pollinator health including colony collapse disorder (hearing before the Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture of the Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives, One Hundred Tenth Congress, second session, June 26, 2008), providing abundant evidence of the cost and effect of CCD on farmers nationwide and USDA's research efforts to date.

The NYT story addresses the mysterious nature of colony collapse, and the fortuitous result of academic/military collaboration to research the cause: 
"Human nature and bee nature were interconnected in how the puzzle pieces came together. Two brothers helped foster communication across disciplines. A chance meeting and a saved business card proved pivotal. Even learning how to mash dead bees for analysis — a skill not taught at West Point — became a factor.
"One perverse twist of colony collapse that has compounded the difficulty of solving it is that the bees do not just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. That makes large numbers of bee autopsies — and yes, entomologists actually do those — problematic."
Now that the cause of CCD is more clearly understood, how can it be treated?  That remains elusive:
"Scientists in the project emphasize that their conclusions are not the final word. The pattern, they say, seems clear, but more research is needed to determine, for example, how further outbreaks might be prevented, and how much environmental factors like heat, cold or drought might play a role.
"They said that combination attacks in nature, like the virus and fungus involved in bee deaths, are quite common, and that one answer in protecting bee colonies might be to focus on the fungus — controllable with antifungal agents — especially when the virus is detected."
Published in NYT online September 6, 2010.

No comments: