Recent research from USDA points to a correlation between a fungus and a family of viruses that may be working together to cause the “Colony Collapse Disorder” (“CCD”) in honeybees. Jay Evans, a researcher at USDA, suggested that there may be a synergism between a fungal pathogen known as Nosema ceranae and 2 or 3 RNA viruses from the family Dicistroviridae, that when jointly present, would constitute “a pretty strong predictor of collapse.”
This research confirms previous considered CCD causes, namely, that several causes working jointly contribute to CCD. Evans’ recent findings suggest that once the bees ingest the fungus these microbes harpoon themselves into the gut wall and live inside the epithelial cells there. It is believed that the fungus then compromises the gut wall and allows the viruses to overwhelm the bees. Evans found that in colonies with higher Nosema numbers the virus levels were to be 2-3 times greater than healthy colonies.
While Evans’ research may point to a more immediate cause of CCD, others are not ready to dispense with other possible and/or contributing causes. David Mendes, the president of the American Beekeeping Federation, for example, is only one of many who recognizes that while biological pathogens are involved, “there might be something that affects the bees’ immune system in the first place that then allows these pathogens to infect them more easily.”
BBC News article quoted David Mendes that:
It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question: are the fungi and viruses a problem or are they a symptom? Do they come in only when the health of the bees is in some jeopardy? I think the bees get sick because of a combination of factors.
And that has many looking at pesticide use and GMOs that produce pesticides. For example, a new study conducted by Penn State University, published in the Public Library of Science, found widespread and “remarkably high” level of pesticide and other toxicant contamination of bee hives and food and that “exposure to many of these neurotoxicants elicits acute and sublethal reductions in honey bee fitness.”
What does this all mean? Addressing illness causing bee pathogens, while part of the solution to combating CCD, will be insufficient as long as our agricultural (i.e., pesticides laden) practices remain unchanged.