Azara Blog: A virus might be responsible for bee colony collapse in the US

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Date published: 2007/09/06

The BBC says:

A virus has emerged as a strong suspect in the hunt for the mystery disease killing off North American honeybees.

Genetic research showed that Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) turned up regularly in hives affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Over the last three years, between 50% and 90% of commercial bee colonies in the US have been affected by CCD.
The honeybee decline can be traced back at least 20 years, and the introducton of the parasitic varroa mite is one of the principal causes.

But in 2004, beekeepers began seeing and reporting a new and serious phenomenon, in which entire colonies would desert their hives, leaving behind their brood and stocks of food - a syndrome that was later labelled Colony Collapse Disorder.

Theories on what is causing it have ranged from mobile phone radiation to pesticides, from genetically-modified crops to climate change.
The researchers ... found genes from parasites, fungi, and viruses, in both healthy hives and in those which had undergone collapse. But IAPV only appeared in samples from CCD populations.

"This virus appears to be strongly associated with CCD," commented Dr Cox-Foster, "but whether it's the causative agent or just a very good marker (of the syndrome) is the next question we need to address."

And if it is a cause, it might not be the only one.

"I still believe that multiple factors are involved in CCD," said Jeff Pettis, "and what we need to do is look at combinations such as parasites, stress and nutrition (together with the virus)."

Meanwhile, theories connected with mobile phones, climate change and GM crops can probably be discounted, the researcher suggested.
If IAPV does turn out to be a major factor causing CCD, there may be little that scientists or beekeepers can do about it.

"We're unlikely to come up with a treatment for viruses in bees," said Dr Pettis, "and so beekeepers are likely just to have to keep the other things that might affect CCD, such as mites, under control."

With commercial honeybees worth an estimated $14bn to US agriculture, the political pressure on scientists to come up with some answers is considerable.

Interesting work. And at least these scientists seem to understand the difference between causation and correlation.

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