Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is a Tiny Fungus Killing Honeybees?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is a Tiny Fungus Killing Honeybees?

Article excerpt

The sharp decline in honeybee populations over the past 10 years has left scientists baffled, leading them to propose a variety of causes from cell phone signals to pesticides. Now, scientists say they have found another puzzle piece.

A team led by Daren Eiri from the University of California, San Diego and Guntima Suwannapong from Burapha University in Thailand, have found that a single-celled parasite can infect honeybee larvae, shortening the bees' lifespans and potentially contributing to so- called colony collapse disorder.

Previous scientific studies suggested that honeybee larvae could not be affected by Nosema ceranae, a microbial fungus. "Basically half the life cycle of the honeybee was ignored in thinking about how to manage and treat Nosema," says James C. Neih, a professor at the University of California, San Diego and the faculty sponsor behind this study.

Contrary to earlier belief, the current study concludes that larvae can indeed be infected. "Now we have a reason to go out there and look and see whether it's [Nosema ceranae] causing a problem for young bees or larvae," says Dr. Neih.

As colony collapse disorder intensifies, Nosema ceranae, a species first described in the 1990s, has come under heightened scrutiny. In June, 2014, President Obama signed a presidential memo ordering the federal government to devise a plan to protect pollinators.

This new study finds that larval infection "may have a detrimental effect on the honeybees later on," says Neih.

"Overall losses of honeybees hives in the country are 40 percent now," says Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard University's School of Public Health who was not affiliated with this study. Dr. Lu has undertaken and published multiple studies on the effects of neonicotinoids on honeybee colonies. …

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