Roots 'n' Shoots: Breaking News: Honey Bee - Colony Collapse Disorder

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Breaking News: Honey Bee - Colony Collapse Disorder

A parasitic fly and accompanying pathogens may be one of the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Proffessor John Hafernik observed a fly that parasitizes and kills honey bees. This accidental discovery lead to research by Andrew Core and other researchers, from the Biochemistry and Biophysics Department of the University of California, to investigate the impact of such a parasite on honey bee colonies.

The honey bee is infected by the phorid fly, Apocephalus borealis, also known as the ‘decapitating fly’. The female oviposits (lays eggs) within the honey bees’ abdomen. The honey bees become disoriented, abandons the hive and eventually dies as the fly larvae hatch and develop within the bee. The fly larvae emerge from the dead bee to pupate. Up to 13 mature larvae can emerge from a single honey bee, increasing the parasite population rapidly after each successful infection. The entire process of infection to emergence of adult flies takes about 2 months.

The fly is a vector or reservoir of several debilitating honey bee pathogens, such as, Deformed Wing Virus and Nosema ceranae, another micro-parasite. The cumulative effect of the parasitic fly, pathogens and other environmental factors may be responsible for CCD observed worldwide.

This leads us a step closer to solving the CCD mystery and hopefully a cure before we are left with no honey bees to save.
Decapitating parasitic fly - Apocepahlus borealis
A New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus borealis.
Core A, Runckel C, Ivers J, Quock C, Siapno T, et al. (2012).
PLoS ONE 7(1): e29639. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029639

The Scientific Article

Core A, Runckel C, Ivers J, Quock C, Siapno T, et al. (2012).
PLoS ONE 7(1): e29639. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029639  

Related Scientific Articles
Runckel C, Flenniken ML, Engel JC, Ruby JG, Ganem D, et al. (2011)
PLoS ONE 6(6): e20656. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020656 

Online Popular Articles

The Vancouver Sun

Update: 18 Oct 2013 - Bee Colony Failures and the SLS model

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  1. Read this earlier. The question is why are those flies suddenly attacking the bees? Those bees and flies must have been around,longer than we humans have been. So, why now? Could it still be due to the use of all these chemicals and climate change?

  2. The flies have been around for millions of years and likely co-evolve with bees. Parasitic emergence is similar to disease (such as SARS, Swine flu and even older viruses, such as Ebola. Plant pathogens also emerge). All of these have been around and infecting their hosts in their natural environment for many years. It is due to us intruding into new, previously undisturbed, habitat that allows these parasites/viruses to come into contact with new hosts. Through repeated contact with the new host (such as commercial honey bees, whose biology is slightly different to their natural host and do not have the vigour or resistance of the original host) the parasites mutate/evolve. This can be fairly quick in human terms, like 5-10 years, but considering the reproductive capacity of the flies they can mutate quite easily within the generations produced in each season. Often this mutation is very subtle, like one or two base pair changes in genes that increase their vigour (that is like changing one or two letters in a 10000 page book!). So small the mutation can be to have a large impact, such as better infection of the honey bees, increased capacity of reproduction, increased ability to carry pathogens. All these things add up and is multiplied in the commercially farmed environments that we create – high honey bee load, lots of potential hosts to infect and then you have a recipe for parasite emergence in just a few years. Also because this mutation is so rapid, the honey bee cannot co-evolve quickly enough to counter the parasite infections with its own resistance. So it comes down to us creating synthetic and optimal conditions for parasites and diseases to emerge within a short time and with devastating effects. Climate change and pesticides do play their part also, but these are more minute than the parasite- mutation-friendly scenarios we produce by commercial farming. We also create a haven for plant pathogens in the mono-crop farming of poorly resistant food plants, such as maize. This also applies to the high animal loads in the animal farming industries.

    Oh dear, I let my science training get the better of me :)


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