Top Story, May 15, 2013
Progress made in battling CCD; cause still unknown
By JANE PRIMERANO
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The consensus of a weekend conference on Colony Collapse Disorder is no definitive answer or miracle cure is in sight, but progress is being made.
“That’s about what we expected,” said Richard Fell of the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech. “No surprises. We really don’t have a handle on what causes it.”
CCD has plagued the beekeeping industry since November 2006.
At first a mystery, it has been blamed on mites, pesticides, queens coming from the wrong place and other problems, most recently high fructose corn syrup.
The National Honey Bee Health Stakeholder Conference Steering Committee met Oct. 15-17 to discuss possible causes for CCD and what can be done.
The report from that meeting was released Friday, May 3.
Dr. Deborah A. Delaney of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware has been to stakeholders meetings and was familiar with the report even before it came out.
“I think research is going to continue to find more sustainable methods for keeping the bee population up, including breeding stock, biological management and nutrition.”
Tim Shuler, apiarist for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture said he has seen the report, but hasn’t had a chance to wade through the entire 72 pages since this is the height of the bee season.
The steering committee is made up of scientists from the USDA, the Agriculture Research Service, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, the NRCS, the Office of Pest Management Policy, the National Agriculture Statistics Service and the EPA.
At the conference were 175 individual participants, including beekeepers, scientists from industry/academia/government, representatives of conservation groups, beekeeping supply manufacturers, commodity groups, pesticide manufacturers and government representatives from the United States, Canada and Europe.
The objectives of the conference were threefold, according to the final report.
The first was to synthesize the available knowledge of CCD, bee pests, pathogens and nutrition, potential pesticide effects on bees and bee biology, genetics and breeding.
The second objective was to facilitate development and implementation of best management practices that are realistic for beekeepers.
The third was to identify priority topics for research, education and outreach.
The conference also confirmed a complex set of stressors and pathogens that apparently causes CCD.
One stressor was not a surprise to the participants.
The varroa destructor mite remains the most detrimental pest and is associated with overwintering colony decline.
It also causes amplified levels of viruses in the bees.
An unwelcome import, European foulbrood, is detected more often and there may be a link to colony loss, according to the conference report.
Nutrition was also discussed by the steering committee.
The report explains research indicates gut microbes may play a key role in enhancement of nutrition, detoxification of chemicals and protections against diseases.
The effects of pesticides on honeybees requires more research in the field, according to the report.
Also released recently was a study from the University of Illinois published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Scientists studied the practice of feeding high fructose corn syrup to bees by beekeepers who take the honey to sell.
Studies in the 1970s indicated this practice was safe.
Since then, however, new pesticides have been developed and the research indicates the corn syrup doesn’t contain the same enzymes that help the bees fight off toxins.
The researchers are specifically looking at an enzyme called p-courmaric which is found on pollen walls and gets to the bees when their legs rub against it.
Fell said he didn’t read the University of Illinois report but he confirmed high fructose corn syrup has been a matter of concern.
HFC can deteriorate into hydroxymethylfurfural as the fructose dehydrates.
Shuler has seen the Illinois report but not read through it.
“There has been discussion for several years about the use of high fructose corn syrup,” he said, noting bee experts have been discussing possibility that it is harmful.
Delaney said she has read the study and “found a few flaws,” but she said there are issues with feeling anything to bees they don’t collect themselves.
“We have to look into providing good nectar sources,” she said, noting the important thing is what is planted around the hives.
The steering committee addressed best management practices and development of priorities regarding four main issues affecting the health of honeybees: Nutrition, pesticides, parasites and genetics/biology/breeding.
One of the items they came up with was to recommend federal and state partners consider land management that provides the maximum available level of nutrition.
Other recommendations include habitat enhancement, judicious and targeted pesticide use, improved colony management technology and improved disease and pest resistant stocks of bees.
The report also recommends continued research on pesticide exposure.
Sublethal pesticide exposure as well as more research into ways to diversity the agricultural landscape to increase the availability of resources for pollinators.
Raising and maintaining healthy queens is another important factor, the report said.
Fell cautioned lab studies often don’t translate into the field.
“It’s difficult to isolate particular factors,” he said, because colonies are very complex.
Bees have advanced social behavior not obvious in the lab, Fell said.