Yesterday I got the opportunity to hear Dr.Diana Cox-Foster (http://ento.psu.edu/directory/dxc12), one of the preeminent bee researchers, give a seminar at the University of Wisconsin about Colony Collapse Disorder. She stressed that the most recent findings of the iridovirus (see earlier posts) don't seem to fully explain CCD. They haven't been able to find this new virus in their collapsed hives in California and at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Cox-Foster advocates the more classic view of CCD: it is a cumulative effect of a wide variety of problems facing the bees. There are new viruses that interact with old pathogens, pesticide residues, and nutritional stress. She particularly stressed the lack of proper nutrition. Like people, bees need to eat a balanced diet; that means lots of different pollen sources all year long. In places where the bees don't have access to good food sources, some beekeepers supplement their diets with artificial pollen substitutes. These are very good, but like any supplement, you can't live on it forever and it isn't as good as the real thing. At Golden Hills, our top priority in selecting apiary locations is securing abundant, pesticide-free forage for our workers so we don't have to feed. Wild colonies, which are important for pollination, don't have this luxury, however.
Dr. Cox-Foster says that everyone should be pollinator advocate. The biggest single thing that an individual can do to help the bees is by making their yards bee-friendly. This involves planting flowers that are helpful to the bees and avoiding spraying your lawn with toxic chemicals. There are a lot of great references online about bee-friendly gardening. The University of California- Berkeley has a good site: http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/
Consider making your garden bee-friendly next year. If you have pictures of bees on your garden flowers or vegetables, send them to me and I will include some of them in our semi-annual newsletter. If you would like specific ideas about how to help the bees, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Want to share what you're already doing? Post a comment on the blog to share it with others!
A lot of people have heard about all the honeybees that have been dying in recent years. For a long time it seemed like we were getting no closer to figuring out why. I heard explanations ranging from the somewhat plausible (pesticides, a cumulative effect from multiple pest attacks) to the absurd (cell phone radiation). None of it really made sense, though, because it didn't explain why the problem began suddenly, while all these factors have been around for years. Recently, however, a study was released that seems to finally explain the mystery.
Scientists have discovered a a new virus that interacts with a well-known fungus which triggers the collapse of the hives. The findings look promising because the virus was found in 100% of the failed hives and has not been detected in areas that haven't reported problems.
Although we don't know if there is any treatment we can provide the bees to help them fight this virus, the findings are good news because we have good ways to manage the problem of the complementary fungus, which is called Nosema. It looks like controlling this problem, which is relatively cheap and easy, should allow the bees to remain healthy enough to battle the virus on their own.