Is the Solution to Colony Collapse Disorder Getting Near?

It’s been a while since I’ve written about colony collapse disorder. It’s still out there, still a very scary thing, but I hadn’t seen much interesting news on it. But today I came across two stories on it and the work being done to solve it.

For those unfamiliar with colony collapse disorder, it’s a condition where bee colonies suddenly die off. The bees generally do not die at the colony itself, making it difficult to find out what’s wrong. Given how important bees are, it’s a topic worth paying attention to.

The first is from Science Daily. They quote a study published in Society for Applied Microbiology: Environmental Microbiology Reports that treating two bee colonies for Nosema ceranae allowed the depleted colonies to recover. They found no other pathogens in those colonies to account for their initial collapse.

The second is from Scientific American. It’s a much longer report, and indicates that it is more likely that a wide range of conditions have come together to cause colony collapse disorder. This part, from page 2 of the article I found particularly interesting:

One of us (vanEngelsdorp) performed autopsies on Hackenberg’s remaining insects and found symptoms never observed before, such as scar tissue in the internal organs. Initial tests also detected some of the usual suspects in bee disease. In the gut contents we found spores of nosema, single-celled fungal parasites that can cause bee dysentery. The spore counts in these and in subsequent samples, however, were not high enough to explain the losses. Molecular analysis of Hackenberg’s bees, performed by the other of us (Cox-Foster), also revealed surprising levels of viral infections of various known types. But no single pathogen found in the insects could explain the scale of the disappearance.

In other words, the bees were all sick, but each colony seemed to suffer from a different combination of diseases. We hypothesized that something had compromised the bees’ immune system, making them susceptible to any number of infections that healthy colonies would normally fend off.

Considering how much farming has changed in recent years, that hypothesis doesn’t sound at all unreasonable to me. So much of what is done in farming now really isn’t tested well enough in my opinion, especially in combination with all the other new factors.

Pesticides plus GMO plus different fertilizers… then there’s the notion on page 3 that poor nutrition due to a lack of variety in the wildflowers that bees can pollinate. Makes me regret my weed-filled lawn rather less.

As individuals there are certain things we can do. Organic gardening and planting a range of local wildflowers should be the obvious things on the list. Same for talking with our wallets – buying more organic and from producers we trust.

And any time you see a chance to encourage others to do likewise, or if you see a chance to be politically active on environmental topics, do so. This is one of many areas we need to improve our treatment of the environment for our own sakes as well as for the rest of the planet.

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