Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

Since 1984, the beekeeping industry has witnessed multiple introductions of invasive species, including the parasitic tracheal mite Acarapis woodi (identified 1984), the parasitic mite Varroa destructor (identified 1987), Africanized honey bees (1991), the small hive beetle Aethina tumida (identified 1996), the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus - IAPV (identified 2007) and the Nosema ceranae (identified 2007). For the past 20 years, parasitic mites have caused extensive damage to honey bees contributing to the disastrous bee colony collapse disorder. These mites transmit viruses to bees and cause significant bee colony collapses and losses each year. Mite-related losses reached catastrophic proportions during the winters of 1995-1996 and 2000-2001 when colony deaths in Northern states ranged between 50% and 100% in many beekeeping operations. Even in years when losses were not catastrophic, the annual death rate was considerably higher than it was prior to 1984.

Despite considerable research efforts, effective and sustainable controls have not yet been developed to terminate these mites. Pesticide resistant mite populations and the inability to identify and disseminate stocks of tested and proven mite-resistant bees are major contributors to these losses. As the number of pesticide resistant products increases worldwide, organic beekeeping has risen to the occasion in order to prevent the pesticides’ environmental ramifications and instead promote natural beekeeping and all of its healthy benefits. While most of the deaths during the winters of 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 were substantially attributed to parasitic mites, about 25-30% of deceased bee colonies exhibited symptoms inconsistent with mites or any other known disorder. Migratory beekeepers trucking bees over great distances were hit especially hard.

This new syndrome, the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), considered an aggregation of bee deaths from multiple Colony Collapse Disorder causes, has produced annual colony losses of up to 35% from 2007 (and in some EU countries even up to 50%). A list of possible causes for bee Colony Collapse Disorder includes beekeeper management practices, new pesticides, pesticide use patterns, nutritional deficits associated with extensive monocultures, climate change, exotic parasites and pathogens, diminished immunity to pathogens or even interactions among two or more of these factors.

The extent of CCD-related losses is not easy to quantify but is partly reflected in rental fees for bee colonies used for pollination that have risen sharply over the past few years. In the past, beekeepers have been able to recover from large losses, albeit at considerable expenses. Historically, migratory beekeepers would return to a Southern wintering ground in the autumn season, and over the next few months they would divide their remaining colonies and build back numbers in time for the following spring bloom.

With CCD, beekeepers are not able to restore their numbers because colonies taken to the South continue to die off over the winter and end up as inadequate worker populations. This means that the number of colonies available for pollination the following year is often well below normal. Hopes that CCD is an ephemeral phenomenon are rapidly vanishing and research communities all over the world are actively working to try and resolve the problem. Commercial beekeepers wintering in Southern states during the winter of 2007-2008 reported extremely high losses with colonies exhibiting many of the same symptoms as seen during the 2006-2007 winter.