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The Military Science

Mystery of the Dying Bees Solved 347

jamie points out news of a study attempting to explain the decline of honeybee populations across the US. As it turns out, the fungus N. ceranae that was thought to be killing off bee colonies had a partner in crime — a DNA-based virus that worked in tandem with N. ceranae to compromise nutrition uptake. From the NY Times: "Dr. Bromenshenk's team at the University of Montana and Montana State University in Bozeman, working with the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center northeast of Baltimore, said in their jointly written paper that the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal. 'It's chicken and egg in a sense — we don't know which came first,' Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo — nor is it clear, he added, whether one malady weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound the other's destructive power. 'They're co-factors, that's all we can say at the moment,' he said. 'They're both present in all these collapsed colonies.'"
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Mystery of the Dying Bees Solved

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:40PM (#33840498)

    Any guidelines on how to help the bees return?

    I like gardening a lot and put out a lot of ornamental flowers and vegetables to attract bees, but this year there have been very few.

  • by GrumblyStuff ( 870046 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:52PM (#33840666)

    I heard one idea about stop trying to get bees to pollinate a single crop at a time. The idea is that like us, they aren't getting the nutrition they need from one plant. They need many different plants.

    My idea would be to stop shipping them all over the country. Yeah, yeah, hippie organic shit but I'm willing to bet that the fungus and the virus were in separate regions at one point. Shipping them around exposed them to new diseases and exposed native bees to new diseases. Well, that's my hypothesis anyway.

    I'd also like to see more stringent pesticide regulations.

  • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashikiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:53PM (#33840676) Homepage

    Kill the fungus, they can survive to repopulate hives if they have the virus. Really all that needs to be developed is a weak fungicide that targets it, and that's not as hard as it sounds. Either that or you find queens that have survived a collapse and breed them with normal bees, who haven't developed an immunity.

    I'm also going to say, the whole "RF/Secretgovernment testing/out to destroy us all" conspiracy theories have once again proven to what they are. Bullshit.

  • Just do a comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:14PM (#33840910)

    You can buy wild desert honey. The bees that make it feed on the various plants found in the desert. They are allowed to feed on whatever they can find. It isn't that common in stores nationally, but you see it in the desert states, since that's where it is made. At any rate, compare their health to the health of clover honey bees. If there is a significant difference, then maybe you are on to something.

    Remember that not all honey is produced the same way. Clover honey is popular because it is easy to make and has a very uniform taste, however polyfloral honey is available. Personally I always buy wild desert honey because I appreciate the flavour. It isn't always the same bottle to bottle, but it has some complexity than regular clover honey. Little more expensive too but then it isn't like you go through a honey bottle a week or something.

  • by interval1066 ( 668936 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:21PM (#33840960) Homepage Journal

    "I'm willing to bet that the fungus and the virus were in separate regions at one point."

    Would have only prolonged the wait, not prevented the combination. Also- shipping the bees around would expose them to more variety of flowers, not less. Your hypothesis on that part seems incorrect to me.

    "I'd also like to see more stringent pesticide regulations."

    We already have some of the strongest pesticide regulations in the world. Its not clear to me how pesticides play a role in this scenario.In an unrelated pesticide story larger US cities are currently reporting much higher incidences of bedbug infestation, largely blamed on the banning of DDT in 1972.

  • Re:Headline (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @06:26PM (#33841510)

    I recently saw a documentary [canvas.be] (in Dutch) on this topic on TV (which was a translated version of a French documentary [www.arte.tv]).

    They indicated many different causes:

    • the parasite (a kind of mite) mentioned in the summary, and the fact that it spreads viruses. Good news: a few colonies have learned to adapt by recognising and killing larvae infected with mite eggs, and removing them from the colony

    • The current bee population is way too homogeneous. All bee queens that are currently sold on the global market are bred in the US by a handful of people. Moreover, the bee population in the US is was already not very diverse in the first place because honey bees are not native to North America, they were imported by European settlers (so they all descend from a few colonies).

    • The global bee trade from the previous point also results in quickly spreading diseases and parasites all over the world.

    • Bee colonies are "abused" in many parts of the world. For example, California has immense almond plantations, with hundreds of thousands of acres that contain nothing but grass and almond trees (apparently it's the state's larges source of income). These flower at the end of winter and have to be fertilised within a period of a few weeks. In order to be achieve this, they import bee colonies from all over the US.

      Problem: bees are normally still hibernating at that point. "Solution": a few weeks in advance they put patties with antibiotics and food concentrate in the colonies to "warm them up". Problem: apart from the forced de-hibernation, many bees die of malnutrition in those plantations because even though there is an abundance of pollen, it's all almond pollen and these do not contain all different kinds of nutrients that bees requires.

    • Pesticides, in particular neonicotinoids (but not just those). There were some pretty horrible stories in the documentary about Bayer refusing all responsibility in the face of all evidence, which included negative effects on bees even when researchers diluted the pesticides to the extent that they could no longer detect them.

      It has become that bad that several beekeepers now take their colonies "on holidays" (e.g. to the Provence in France) to allow them to recuperate from all the poison they get from the farmlands and plantations. Even more surreal was that apparently a number of beekeepers are moving from the countryside into cities, because the lack of pesticides in urban settings more than compensates for the other pollution and the reduced availability of pollen.

  • Solitary Bees (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Friday October 08, 2010 @06:45PM (#33841692) Homepage Journal

    I like gardening a lot and put out a lot of ornamental flowers and vegetables to attract bees, but this year there have been very few.

    You don't need colonial bees for your garden. Take a block of hardwood, drill a bunch of holes in it (about 3/8" but look it up) and tack it up to a post or tree near your garden. Solitary bees will build homes in it.

    Encourage your local wasp population too. I'll assume you don't spray bug killer on your garden, seeing as how you understand the need for bugs*.

    * speaking as a normal human, not an entomologist.

  • Re:Headline (Score:3, Interesting)

    by turtledawn ( 149719 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @07:32PM (#33842040)

    A contributing factor to the severity of varroa mite infestations is the use of pre-manufactured wax or plastic comb supports, which cause the bees to build comb with cells that are just slightly larger than the cells bees build in the wild. For some reason, the bees aren't able to clean out the larger cells as effectively or perhaps they don't notice the presence of the mite eggs as soon. When bees are allowed to build comb to their own liking, as in a top-bar hive, you see very few varroa infestations (and that's more or less the extent of my bee-keeping knowledge, sorry).

  • by turtledawn ( 149719 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @07:37PM (#33842072)

    have you tried top bar hives? Supposedly bees can keep control of the mite more easily in natural-sized comb instead of the slightly too-big comb you get when using commercial frames with pre-molded supports. Of course it's more work for somewhat less honey, but mites suck.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 08, 2010 @07:51PM (#33842168)
    Tomatoes (except for "potato-leaf" varieties) and peppers are self-pollinating; as are all cereal grains that I know of. There are other bees [wi.gov] to pollinate the rest; sometimes doing a better job than honeybees.

    And the "ZOMG, we're all gonna DIE" media coverage of CCD is getting pretty fucking old.

  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:40PM (#33843014) Journal
    Gonna have to disagree with you here: there were eggs long before there were chickens. They weren't chicken eggs, but they were eggs nonetheless. Something that wasn't a chicken laid an egg, and from that egg hatched a chicken, to oversimplify a million years of evolution.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 08, 2010 @10:44PM (#33843034)

    I'm curious, how so exactly? Some of our biggest grass family staple crops, like corn, rice, wheat, and sorghum, are wind pollinated. Root staples like potato and cassava are not dependent on pollination at all. A good number of vegetables, like tomatoes & peppers (beans & peas too I think), are self pollinating, and others, like brassica, leaf, bulb, and root vegetables, need pollination only for seed production, not for the crop itself, so if seed producers produced seed without bees (and they might already since hybrid seed production isn't exactly done haphazardly) it wouldn't be an issue. Some fruits and nuts, like watermelon, apple, kiwi, cacao, blueberry, and macadamia, might be out of luck, but we wouldn't die off if the supply were cut. Of course, even there we could get substitutes, for example, fruits pollinated by things like beetles/flies, such as Annonaceae fruits like pawpaw, cherimoya, and sugar apple, or parthenocarpic species and varieties, like figs, pineapples, persimmons, bananas, and oranges, or use chemicals/hormones to set fruit.

    It's certainty not a good thing by any measure, but I don't really see how humans are absolutely dependent on bees. This is just an agricultural perspective though, not sure what ramifications it would have on the greater ecosystem, but I thought it was only the European honey bees in real danger, not the every other bee. Unless I'm missing something?

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Saturday October 09, 2010 @12:52AM (#33843472) Homepage Journal

    I live in the desert. I have a wild honeybee colony on my property. It's a sad affair that barely stays alive. The ONE time in the past nine years that it got up enough numbers to generate a swarm, you could have stuffed the entire swarm into a shoebox and had room to spare. I've tried feeding them but they don't seem interested (tho they show up to get water every day).

    One problem with the western US deserts is that the dirt is loaded with fungus and bacteria spores (thus explosive growth anytime it rains or in any dampness including dew), and now that we mention it, I wonder how that affects the bees. -- I've found that I cannot let young puppies be out in the dirt until their eyes are fully developed (about 4 weeks of age) or they are likely to get eye infections.

    [PS. I used to work for a beekeeper.]

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Saturday October 09, 2010 @01:07AM (#33843518) Homepage Journal

    Trouble is, it's extremely tough to eliminate the average fungus, being they're opportunistic. Ask anyone who's battled a fungal infection -- treatment isn't one-shot, it can continue for months or years and still not succeed in eliminating the problem. (Frex, blastomycosis has about a 40% fatality rate even with the best of treatment, which if you're lucky can drag out for 6-9 months.)

    A vaccine against the virus is more likely to be successful, and more likely to succeed with only one or two treatments. Also, it may be possible to incorporate viral immunity into the bees' DNA.

    And that was my first thought when I saw TFA... "so much for the cellphone towers tinfoil asshattery!"

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.