Characterised by the sudden mass exodus of bees from their hives, CCD was first reported in America in November 2006, and has rapidly spread to over 20 American States. Some CCD cases have also been reported in Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain. CCD is increasingly becoming a crisis, causing beekeepers losses of between 30 – 90% and posing a potential threat in European agriculture, where honeybees are of great economic importance.
A study by scientists from the Nairobi-headquartered icipe – African Insect Science for Food and Health, conducted jointly with colleagues from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), suggests that there could be a link between microganisms from invasive species, such as the small hive beetle, recently introduced into the US from Africa. In their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS, 4th May 2007), the researchers observe that, though of no consequence to African honeybees, the small hive beetle decimates European honeybee colonies with impunity through a fungus that it carries.
“Beetles are scavengers and their job is to clean up. In the case of the small hive beetle, it uses a fungus to digest left-over pollen, from which it gets its nutrients. This fungus causes fermentation, in effect causing a change in the chemistry in the hives. Since bees are very sensitive to such variations, they eventually abandon the hives,” explains icipe scientist, Dr Baldwyn Torto.
He adds that African honeybees are generally highly hygienic; they don’t allow debris to accumulate in their hives, so there is little for the small hive beetles to scavenge and to support growth and establishment of other microorganisms. In addition, because of having to constantly deal with a wide diversity of tropical microorganisms while foraging, the African honeybees have evolved ways to fight diseases more effectively, and respond more quickly to any new challenges. On the other hand, says Dr Torto, European honeybees unlike their African cousins are unable to effectively inhibit infestations by this beetle.
“Knowing what allows African honeybees to survive attacks under the tough tropical conditions, and introducing these components into European honeybees, might be a step towards resolving the CCD,” says Dr Torto.
Liz Nganga | alfa
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