What’s killing the bees? IAPV apparently

Another update on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the surprisingly devastating attack on the honeybee that occurred last year that was responsible for huge losses of bee colonies and a great deal of concern about crops pollinated by this insect.

Originally we mocked the idea that CCD was caused by global warming and alarmist calls from people like Bill Maher that suggested a correlation between CCD and cell phone use (ha!). Critical at the time were initial experiments showing that irradiation of hives allowed recolonization, suggesting an infectious process. Now it seems this has been confirmed.

Signs of colony collapse disorder were first reported in the United States in 2004, the same year American beekeepers started importing bees from Australia.

The disorder is marked by hives left with a queen, a few newly hatched adults and plenty of food, but the worker bees responsible for pollination gone.

The virus identified in the healthy Australian bees is Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) — named that because it was discovered by Hebrew University researchers.

Although worker bees in colony collapse disorder vanish, bees infected with IAPV die close to the hive, after developing shivering wings and paralysis. For some reason, the Australian bees seem to be resistant to IAPV and do not come down with symptoms.

Scientists used genetic analyses of bees collected over the past three years and found that IAPV was present in bees that had come from colony collapse disorder hives 96 percent of the time.

So far the data is correlative, but it’s a very strong correlation, as well as a highly plausible biological explanation. Introduction of the pathogen to healthy colonies will be the definitive test.

Here is the paper in Science, as well as more perspective from Bug Girl.