U.S. Bee Deaths From Colony Collapse Disorder May Be Tied To Diet, Study Finds

June 5, 2013

Editor’s Note: The PNAS study was discussed on the Bee Health IPD here and in CRE’s comments to the Welsh Government on their draft Pollinator Action Plan, available here


The study, “Honey constituents up-regulate detoxification and immunity genes in the western honey bee Apis mellifera” by Wenfu Mao, Mary A. Schuler, and May R. Berenbaum, is available here.  Supplemental supporting data from the study is available here.


From: Reuters


By Richard Valdmanis


BOSTON, June 3 (Reuters) – Bee keepers’ use of corn syrup  and other honey substitutes as bee feed may be contributing to  colony collapse by depriving the insects of compounds that  strengthen their immune systems, according to a study released  on Monday.


U.S. bee keepers lost nearly a third of their colonies last  winter as part of an ongoing and largely unexplained decline in  the population of the crop-pollinating insects that could hurt  the U.S. food supply.


A bee’s natural food is its own honey, which contains  compounds like p-coumaric acid that appear to help detoxify and  strengthen a bee’s immunity to disease, according to a study by  scientists at the University of Illinois.


Bee keepers, however, typically harvest and sell the honey  produced by the bees and use substitutes like sugar or  high-fructose corn syrup to feed them.
“The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes,  including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the  ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and  contribute to colony losses,” according to the study, which was  published on May 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy  of Sciences.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors  of America said in May that more than 30 percent of America’s  managed honeybee colonies were lost during the winter of  2012-13, up sharply from around 22 percent the previous winter   but still close to the six-year average. The losses vary year to  year, but a huge and prolonged multiyear decline threatens the  species and crop pollination.


Honeybees pollinate fruits and vegetables that make up  roughly one-quarter of the American diet, and scientists are  split over whether pesticides, parasites or habitat loss are  mainly to blame for the deaths.


Similar losses have been recorded in Europe where lawmakers  have moved to ban three of the world’s most widely used  pesticides for two years amid growing criticism from  environmental activists.


Agrichemical and pesticide makers like Monsanto,  Bayer AG and Syngenta are also launching  projects to study and counter colony collapse.


Few deny that pesticides  – particularly a class of commonly  used insecticides called neonicotinoids – can be harmful to bees  in the laboratory. It is unclear what threat the insecticides   pose under current agricultural usage. Some scientists say  habitat decline and disease-carrying parasites, such as the  Varroa mite, are the chief cause of bee deaths.

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