Is US "Colony Collapse Disorder" due to the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) and a result of slackening import controls on honeybees ?
In October 2006, US beekeepers reported uexplained loses of honey bees in their hives. What has now become known as "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD) is manifest by a massive reduction of 30-90 % of bees simply disappearing (not found as corpses) but with live queens in residence, plentiful supplies of honey and immature bees present.
A recent survey of 13 states by the Apiary Inspectors of America showed that over a quarter of U.S. beekeepers have lost, on average, half of their bee colonies between September 2006 and March 2007.
Pollination by bees of major agricultural crops is essential - the US Agricukture Research Service say bees help produce US15Bn. of crops. In California, the almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees, approximately one half of all honey bees in the United States. Post war there were some 5 MN. hives which has declined to 2.5 mn. before CCD took it's toll late last year.
CCD has added another yet another threat to the well being of the stocks in addition to varroa and tracheal mites, and has created major new stresses on honey bees.
A threat that has possibly been identified as a result of research reported in Science this week. ("A metagenomic survey of microbes in honey bee colony collapse disorder", ) Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University in University Park and a large group of collaborators have been working on a "metagenomics" project — studying the collective genomes from groups of organisms — which involves sequencing all the microflora living inside bees guts, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi - using a technique developed by Roche subsidiary 454 Life Sciences - the Genome Sequencer™ system.
This seemed a direct way to identify an infective source as it had been previously found that intense radiation dosage on emptied hives removed the problem - hence the agent must be living - as distinct from chemical or radiation from mobile phones, microwave towers.
Preliminary results have identifed a virus which is associated with CCD, wich has been associated with bee diseases previously. This is the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) which was identified by Ilan Sela, a virologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, who found it in sick colonies in Israel and sequenced the virus, in collaboration with a US partner, a few years ago.
This was in 2004 when there were the earliest reports of colony collapse disorder. It was also was the year U.S. beekeepers began importing bees from Australia - which had previously been banned by the Honeybee Act of 1922. Canada has allowed the importation of honey bee queens and package bees from Australia since 1973. In addition, the movement of honey bees from Canada into the United States has not been regulated or restricted since Canada first allowed entry of Australia honey bees.
A risk assessment prepared by the US Department of Agriculture in April 2000 at the request of Australian suppliers who wished to ship to the US concluded...
"Consequently, the inspection and certification program currently used by Australia for honey bee exports to other countries where AFB is endemic and under statutory control are adequate for shipments to the United States.However the association is only correlative so far, but Sela also found that some Israeli bees had integrated parts of the IAPV sequence into their own genomes, and that these bees seemed resistant to the virus. If IAPV is truly the culprit of US disappearances, then Lipkin suggests these naturally resistant bees could be used to start new hives.
We found no evidence of adverse species, subspecies or strains of honey bees that would be of concern relative to the importation of honey bee germplasm from Australia. Likewise, we found no viruses or other disease organisms that posed significant risk to the import of germplasm.
We recommend that all queens and package bees exported from Australia to the United States be from apiaries inspected and certified by Australian regulatory officials ...etc.,"
Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist and co-author of the study said "At least we have a lead now we can begin to follow. We can use it as a marker and we can use it to investigate whether it does in fact cause disease".
Some expeerts remain sceptical that IAPV is the sole cause of CCD, they point out that parasitic mites, pesticides and poor nutrition all remain suspects, as does the stress of travel as hives are moved by truck to pastures new for their busy and essential role.
Jerry Hayes, chief of the apiary section of Florida's Agriculture Department says, "This may be a piece or a couple of pieces of the puzzle, but I certainly don't think it is the whole thing."
May Berenbaum, an entomologist at University of Illinois led a recent examination of the decline in honeybee and other pollinator populations across North America.
"The authors themselves recognize it's not a slam dunk, it's correlative. But it's certainly more than a smoking gun _ more like a smoking arsenal. It's very compelling."
In the UK there were reports of collapses spring - the national bee unit, a branch of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is still trying to determine the level of the effects. So far Mike Brown, head of the national bee unit based in York, reported no signs of CCD in Britain. "There is no evidence in the UK right now of colony collapse disorder," he said in a statement. "The majority of inspectors said that they can put the current mortalities in honeybee populations around the UK down to varroa or varroasis."
In 2005 DEFRA imposed a 20% funding cut on the Honeybee Health Programme in 2005 reducing funding from £1.25 Mn to £1 Mn.
In Spain, thousands of colonies are said to have been lost, and up to 40% of Swiss bees are reported to have disappeared or died in the past year. Heavy losses have also been reported in Portugal, Italy and Greece.
To date ,the official view in the UK is that any reported collapses are the result of varroa, the parasitic mite which was introduced in 1992 into Devon , which has been held in check by the naturally occurring insecticide pyrethrum, but to which the varroa mite has been developing a resistance.
The picture shows a bee preserved in amber from 20-30 Mn years ago in the mid(ish) Cretaceous, when Dinosaurs probably grazed on orchids - this pollen is the first record found in the fossil record of orchids. This was found in Dominica.