Promising Research at Va. Tech on Colony Collapse in Bees

BLACKSBURG—Recent research has revealed a promising line of study into the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes worker bees to abandon their hives.

Virginia Tech entomology professor Dr. Rick Fell believes the new research has merit, but a final answer and possible cures are yet to be found.

“This gives us some new avenues to pursue, but we are not yet at a point where we can say, ‘Yes, this causes the problem,’” Fell said. The study, published by University of Montana scientists and U.S. Army researchers, proposes that the combination of a microscopic fungus and a bee virus could be driving bees to leave their hives.

“Their idea is that it’s not one or the other, but these two together that’s responsible for these problems,” Fell said. “But the results haven’t been verified yet. For instance, they haven’t yet identified the virus, or demonstrated that this is the final cause.” And the scientists haven’t replicated the problem on a colony of healthy bees, he added, which is standard scientific procedure.

However, Fell agrees with most researchers that an undetermined combination of pathogens, virus and environmental factors are probably the most likely cause of CCD.

“For instance, in Virginia we’ve had a couple of severe droughts over the past several years, especially in late summer,” he said. “That has limited bee forage, which has affected colony health going into winter. Then you add in a tough winter, stresses related to varroa mites, disease and perhaps pesticides, and you have a variety of factors that could cause CCD.

“I tell beekeepers we have a perfect storm,” Fell added. “Any one of these factors on their own could not be causing CCD, but when you add them all together, there’s a huge list of factors that could come together and cause a decline in colony health.”

According to a 2010 survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America, an estimated 33 percent of all bee colonies died from CCD last winter. Researchers at Virginia Tech and other universities are vigorously pursuing a solution, Fell said. Since 2009, Virginia Tech scientists have been using DNA analysis to test for nosema ceranae, a type of fungus.

“It’s a pathogen that invades the mid-gut of the bee, where digestion and food absorption occurs, and attacks it,” Fell said. “We’ve collected samples from 300 bee colonies across the state to see if there are nosema infections and at what levels. So far we’ve found approximately 70 percent of Virginia hives are infected with it. But this new nosema is odd, because we don’t see many symptoms or problems” in Virginia hives related to its presence.

The good news is that CCD has led to a resurgence of interest in beekeeping. There are now more than 30 local beekeeping associations in Virginia. Many offer regular classes on how to keep bees, and Fell estimated about 1,000 people have learned how to keep bees in just the past year.

via . Virginia Farm Bureau


  1. Donna Carper McDonald says:

    I think research on bee colonies is very much needed. Without our bees we won’t have anything. Thank you for your good work!