Silence of the Bees
Update on Colony Collapse Disorder (Oct. 2007)

It was a mystery that left scientists around the world buzzing for answers. Last year a mysterious and deadly plague silently worked its way through bee colonies, leaving millions of dead bees in its wake. The killer was coined as CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder. It had moved in suddenly and unexpectedly, and left so few clues, experts could not crack the case.

Luckily this past September, there was a big break in the case. A team of scientists led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Pennsylvania State University, The Pennsylvanis State Department of Agriculture and Columbia University linked CCD with a virus imported from Australia, IAPV or Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. Over the past three years, genetic tests on bees collected from stricken colonies around the U.S. found the virus in 96 percent of bees from hives affected by Colony Collapse Disorder.

IAPV had not historically been present in U.S. bees. In fact, it was only discovered in Israel in 2004, the same year American beekeepers started importing packaged bees from Australia. “Before that, nobody knew to look for it,” says Jeff Pettis of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory. “As people began to look for it, it was found in China, Australia and the U.S.”

A CCD-affected hive

Though the discovery of IAPV was indeed a big break, the case of CCD was not closed. Scientists have much to learn about how IAPV affects colonies and how it may have brought on CCD. Future studies will tell researchers if they are dealing with just one strain of the virus or if there are other strains to look for. “Discovering the IAPV was a lead but not the end of the story. We’re looking at IAPV as a marker. It’s there. It’s present in colonies but viruses by themselves are not known to be that dangerous,” says Pettis. Pettis and other scientists believe that CCD is not caused by one single factor, but by a whole host of forces including pesticides, parasites, poor nutrition, and stress. Any of these may leave bees vulnerable to infection and make IAPV lethal. “We know all of those things have affected bees in the past,” says Pettis. “We have to look at combinations of factors.”

Researchers at Penn State University and the USDA are planning a complicated set of experiments where they stress bees in certain ways and evaluate the effect on their health. The tests will hopefully indicate whether IAPV causes CCD by itself or if it is triggered by other pathogens and stresses.

Some studies on IAPV have already brought positive news. Israeli researchers say there is a possibility that IAPV-resistant bees can be bred. A third of bees sampled in Israel have incorporated the virus into their genome. In experiments, almost 20% of these bees survived when injected with IAPV.

While the work is ongoing and answers are sought, until the government declares otherwise, the nation’s borders remain open for bees. Packaged bees are being brought in from Australia, which has yet to report cases of CCD colonies. Though researchers are still searching for answers, they are considering whether stressors that disproportionately affect U.S. bees such as pesticides, poor nutrition or pests like varroa mites might trigger the virus, making it virulent.

Last year, imports from Australia and New Zealand made up only 5 percent of the bees needed just for almond pollination (though almond pollination represents half of our need for honeybee pollination services).

Case closed? Not yet; but at least the prime suspect is now in custody. In the meantime, beekeepers must take measures to keep bees as healthy as possible. The goal now is improved nutrition, reduced stress, and better overall health for bees. Many beekeepers have been able to achieve just that. Over the summer, many experienced beekeepers had been able to build up the number of bees in the colonies over the summer. However, Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State University and a lead researcher on the team that discovered IAPV in U.S. bees says there are some reports now of CCD making a reappearance, though mainly in the colonies of less experienced beekeepers. If CDD continues, researchers like Cox-Foster are concerned that we could see major problems in honeybee numbers next Spring. She explains that beekeepers were able to restore colony numbers this year, but the weather was in our favor. Next time, we may not be that fortunate. If it strikes again, CCD could have disastrous impacts on U.S. agriculture — causing prices to soar and threatening the availability of some crops. Among the most vulnerable crops are almonds — a crop that completely depends on honeybee pollination. But foods like apples, berries and alfalfa seeds, which is fed to dairy cows and livestock, will be in peril as well. “It’s still fairly early,” says Cox-Foster. “It’s still a concern that some people will continue to have problems with CCD but the verdict is out.”

  • David Watson

    I’m sure the ingenuity of mankind will save us, if it doesn’t kill us first.

  • A concerned Viewer

    Now that it is June 2008 I would like an update on the website about progress and are we succeeding ?

  • Carlos M. Pianelli

    The ignorance of the American people is what amaze me, very few people knows anything about what it is happening to the bees

  • Helen Palisin

    I agree that we should have an update for 2008. If other insects are not going after the honey left in the hives, why is that not being analyzed. As a former beekeeper I know they would be there in a minute. Their abscence suggests it’s tainted and could well be the source of the reduced immunity.

  • NATURE Online

    For a June 2008 update on Colony Collapse Disorder, please read the interview with Pennsylvania State Beekeeper Dennis van Engelsdorp:

  • Ludwig J. Dahlberg

    This is a far reaching problem, and if the answer are not found soon, to reverse this, the world is in for a extreme change of food, and health.



  • steinmentz1

    Send prisoners from field to field to polinate plants by hand until a machine can be invented. Remember the picking out of seeds from cotton bowls before the invention of the ‘cotton jin’. A farmer could once rent prisoners from the state to help with the harvest.

  • S. Brown

    I hope that we are working hard on finding both the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder as well as solutions for it’s prevention.We also need to consider the ways in which we use such an important species.The way in which we are using the honey bee may be a key to it’s heath & survival.

  • SABrown

    Interesting comment here on the update of bees and the CCD problem. Auxigro pesticide: she notes the birth, dispensing timeframe, and disappearance of Auxigro.
    Something to consider at least.

  • Rob Vannett

    I believe each one of us contributes to the decline of the bee.Each purchase has a direct correlation to the distribution of goods in our society.For example let’s go buy some round-up…,this might b.. the last…So lets take responsibility for our world,buy responsibly.Recycle,buy Organic,non GMO,support Green technology,e-mail President Obama with your thoughts on CCD,start spreading the word,we can turn this situation around.Buy the movie “The Silence of the Bees”,show it to your community,place of worship,school,civic organization,follow it up with a Bee empowerment discussion.Stay Pro-active.
    Less stress equals stronger bees!
    Peace and light Rob

  • Ray

    People!!! Stop praying to God, no God is going to save you!! – You need to save your self, you did this, analyze, and reverse and fix.

    Praying to God will do absolutely nothing!!!! I am tired of hearing these people who are brainwashed.

    1 week ago, I noticed a bee hive in the back of my house, it was a wild one, lots of bees, I left it alone. They pollinate all my trees locally.

  • Jonathan

    People!!! You need to save your self, you did this, analyze, and reverse and fix. 1 week ago, I noticed a bee hive in the back of my house, it was a wild one, lots of bees, I left it alone. They pollinate all my trees locally.

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