A parasitic mite has helped a virus wipe out billions of honeybees throughout the globe, say scientists.
A team studying honeybees in Hawaii found that the Varroa mite helped spread a particularly nasty strain of a disease called deformed wing virus.
The mites act as tiny incubators of one deadly form of the disease, and inject it directly into the bees’ blood.
This has led to “one of the most widely-distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet”.
The findings are reported in the journal Science.
The team, led by Dr Stephen Martin from the University of Sheffield, studied the honeybees in Hawaii, where Varroa was accidentally brought from California just five years ago.
Crucially some Hawaiian islands have honeybee colonies that are still Varroa-free.
This provided the team with a unique natural laboratory; they could compare recently-infected colonies with those free from the parasite, and paint a biological picture of exactly how Varroa affected the bees.
The team spent two years monitoring colonies – screening Varroa-infected and uninfected bees to see what viruses lived in their bodies.
Dr Martin explained to BBC Nature that most viruses were not normally harmful to the bees, but the mite “selected” one lethal strain of one specific virus.
“In an infected bee there can be more viral particles than there are people on the planet,” Dr Martin explained.
“There’s a vast diversity of viral strains within a bee, and most of them are adapted to exist in their own little bit of the insect; they get on quite happily.”
But the mite, he explained, “shifts something”.
A pitched battle about why bee populations around the world are declining so rapidly has been joined by two new studies pointing directly at the harm from insecticides most commonly used by grain, cotton, bean and vegetable farmers.
Pesticides were an early suspect, but many additional factors appear to be at play — including a relatively new invasive mite that kills bees in their hives, loss of open land for foraging, and the stresses on honeybee colonies caused by moving them from site to site for agricultural pollinating.
The new bee research, some of the most extensive done involving complex field studies rather than simpler laboratory work, found that exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides did not kill the bees directly, but changed their behavior in harmful ways. In particular, the insecticide made the honeybees and bumblebees somewhat less able to forage for food and return with it to their hives.
While the authors of the studies published Thursday in the journal Science do not conclude that the pesticides are the sole cause of the American and international decline in bees or the more immediate and worrisome phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, they say that the omnipresent chemicals have a clearly harmful effect on beehives.
Scientists from the Smithsonian using DNA data sets to outline the evolutionary family tree of the Hawaiian honeycreeper have determined that the 56 species of the native bird evolved from the Eurasian rosefinch.
In another important finding, the researchers linked the timing of the evolution of the honeycreeper to the formation of the four main Hawaiian Islands.
“It was fascinating to be able to tie a biological system to geological formation and allowed us to become the first to offer a full picture of these birds’ adaptive history,” said Helen James, a research zoologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and an author of a paper on the study.
Fern Duvall, state Forestry and Wildlife Division wildlife biologist, who was not involved with this study but is working with two of the authors of the paper, James and Rob Fleischer, on a similar project with shorebirds, called the findings “dynamic” and “unique.”
Putting the research in context, Duvall noted that many bird experts believed the honeycreepers to be descendants of the house finch of North America. Instead, the researchers say the Eurasian rosefinch from Asia is the mother bird of the species.
As for the evolutionary discoveries, Duvall said it had been theorized that there was a link between the biologic and geologic development of the birds to the islands. The scientific connection made in the study is new, he said.
“For them to show that that is the case is dynamic,” he said Wednesday. “I think it’s an excellent example that birds’ forms are tied to diverse habitat types.”
OTTAWA – FOLLOWING a massive bee die-off in parts of the world, two Canadian universities on Wednesday launched an effort to breed honey bees resistant to pests and diseases.
Led by the universities of Guelph and Manitoba, the programme will try to breed a better bee through genetic selection.
It will also screen new products for pest and disease control, and try to come up with new ways of managing pollination colonies that face risks that include parasites, bacterial infections and pesticides resulting from the impact of human activities on the environment.
Ottawa is providing US$244,000 (S$300,748) to the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association to participate in the project. The goal is to ‘help beekeepers secure sustainable honey harvests and provide essential pollination services to the fruit and vegetable industry’, the government said in a statement.
Honey bee colony declines in recent years have reached 10 to 30 per cent in Europe, 30 per cent in the United States, and up to 85 per cent in Middle East, according to a United Nations report on the issue released earlier this year.
Honey bees are critical to global agriculture. They pollinate more than 100 different crops, representing up to US$83 billion in crop value world wide each year and roughly one-third of the human diet. — AFP
MIKE BARRETT does not have much of a yard at his two-story row house in Astoria, Queens. But that fact has not kept him from his new hobby of beekeeping — he put the hive on his roof. When it was harvest time this fall, he just tied ropes around each of the two honey-filled boxes in the hive, and lowered them to the ground.
Eventually, Mr. Barrett loaded the boxes into his car, took off his white beekeeper suit and set off for a commercial kitchen in Brooklyn. There, along with other members of the New York City beekeeping club, he extracted his honey, eventually lugging home 40 pounds of the stuff.
He was happy with his successful harvest, but he also reaped something he did not expect. “I was surprised how much I really care about the bees,” said Mr. Barrett, 49, a systems administrator for New York University, in reflecting on his inaugural season as a beekeeper. “You start to think about the ways to make their lives better.”
Until last spring, Mr. Barrett would have been breaking the law and risking a $2,000 fine for engaging in his sticky new hobby. But in March, New York City made beekeeping legal, and in so doing it joined a long list of other municipalities, from Denver to Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Salt Lake City, that have also lifted beekeeping bans in the last two years.
The H-2A program allows agricultural employers to bring in foreign workers when there is a shortage of U.S. workers.
2008 | H-2A approved
» Bay View Farms: 10
» Bird Feather Hawaii: 25
» Captain Cook Honey: 2
» Hawaiian Queen Co.: 4
» Haleakala Ranch Co.: 1
» Kapapala Ranch: 1
» Kona Cold Lobsters: 8
» Kona Coffee Grounds : 36
» Larry Jefts Farms: 48
» Rincon Family Farms: 2
2008 | Rejected
» Bird Feather Hawaii : 10
» Precy Nazaire/Hawaii Agricultural Labor Services: 50
» Takenaka Nursery: 5
2009 | H2-A approved
» Bird FeatherHawaii: 18
» Captain Cook Honey: 2
» Global Ag Labor: 48
» Haleakala Ranch: 1
» Hawaiian Queen Co.: 6
» Kapapala Ranch: 2
» Kona Coffee Grounds: 28
» Kona Queen Hawaii : 5
» Larry Jefts Farms: 40
» Richard T. Watanabe Farm: 1
» Waikele Farms: 80
2009 | Rejected
» Bird Feather Hawaii: 3
» Global Ag Labor: 12
» Greenwell Farms: 12
» Kona Queen Hawaii: 2
» Palehua Ohana Farmers Cooperative: 8
Source: U.S. Department of Labor’s Foreign Labor Certification Data Center
Posted on October 13, 2009.
Sydney Ross Singer
In case you haven’t heard the buzz, the honey bee in Hawaii is gravely threatened by a newly introduced parasite, the varroa mite, which can wipe out our bee population within a few years, and is spreading across the state.
The question is, should we save the honey bees, or is the mite doing us a favor?
If you ask residents, farmers, and beekeepers, the honey bee is a blessing in Hawaii. They provide delicious honey, they help pollinate all sorts of fruit trees and crops, and they are interesting creatures to raise as a hobby. For most people, our islands would surely be less sweet without honey bees.
On the other hand, if you ask some conservationists who only value “native” species and wish to eradicate introduced ones, the honey bee is an invasive species curse in Hawaii. They compete with native pollinators, and they pollinate alien plant species that are encroaching on native forests. For these people, conservation would best be served by the eradication of the honey bee.
Unfortunately, the Hawaii government holds both of these opinions. And this spells doom for the honey bee.
In appealing for government assistance, the bee industry (and bee researchers) emphasize the “billions of dollars” in value that honey bees are worth to agriculture – that without subsidies, bee colony numbers will continue to decline, causing severe economic consequences for the production of many agricultural crops.
Certainly the bee industry is undergoing major problems, most notably from parasitic mites, but the “billions of dollars benefit to agriculture” argument should be abandoned. Here’s why:
Over the past 20 years, CA’s almond acreage has increased to the point where one million bee colonies are now required for February pollination (at the rate of two colonies per acre). Because almonds bloom in February and because bees are released from almond orchards by mid-March, the one million colonies coming out of almond orchards represent a pool of bees that can be transported to any area of the U.S. for crop pollination purposes – provided the growers of such crops are willing to pay for transportation and related costs.
Almond growers pay dearly for their bees – rental fees are up to $50/colony and rising as new acreage goes in. Almond pollinatlon has completely changed the face of the U.S. beekeeping industry – without almond pollination income, many US. beekeepers would be out of business. Indeed, some beekeepers are increasing their colony numbers solely to supply bees for CA’s increasing almond acreage.
In essence, CA’s almond industry is subsidizing the U.S. bee industry to the tune of millions of dollars a year. Any government subsidy would be dwarfed by the infusion of money that the bee industry has already received and continues to receive from the almond industry.