This month every beekeeping magazine and newsletter is filled with the news. The cause of CCD (Colony collapse disorder) has been found, or at least they think they have found it. Researches have found that hives with the Israeli Acute Paralysis (IAP) virus has a strong correlation to hives affected by CCD. Not a slam dunk, but a very likely culprit. IAP was first identified in Israel (hence it’s name), but it originated from Australia.
When bees were first imported from Australia, some argued that this was a horribly bad thing to do because you don’t know what you may be bringing in. After all, many of the major crises in the beekeeping industry were caused by importing bees (Varroa Mites, Tracheal mites and Africanized bees to name the most well known problems). But they did go ahead in import them, I believe on pressure of the Almond growers that were worried about having enough bees for pollination. To my knowledge no test was done in an isolated area to see how they would do in our climate with our pests. But the argument was that Australia’s bees didn’t have the pests we have, so it’s not a problem. An argument that doesn’t make much sense since we aren’t worried about the pests we already have.
It looks like the doomsayers may have been right. Australian bees were imported in for pollination, into the biggest melting pot of bees in the US, the almond groves. Over 1 million hives moved into one state, sharing diseases, then moving back into nearly every state in the continental US (directly or indirectly though multiple movements and sale of bees) spreading everything picked up in California country wide within months. The result, CCD reported from coast to coast..
So why isn’t Australia reporting CCD? It’s what they don’t have that is keeping it from showing up there. They don’t have Varroa that vector viruses. Nosema seems to be another common thread, though I think it may be more a symptom than a cause, though robbing of hives weakened from Nosema could spread the virus (and Varroa) as well.
I should also note that an article in the most recent Bee Culture argues that the virus was not originally imported from Australia since it should have shown up in Canada and in the US (though imports from Canada) much earlier (perhaps as early as 1987). It points to a possible source that infected both the US and Australia. It claims that queen producers may have used infected royal jelly from China. Of course this is conjecture as well and also likely occurred well before 2004, the year mass bees were imported in large numbers into the US and shortly before CCD started popping up. Far to many Ifs to draw a strait line to the source, and it’s pretty much a moot point now. The damage has been done.
So what does this mean for us? Unless you have a lab you’re not going to detect it early. And even if you did there is no treatment for it. It does mean that control of Varroa is even more important now so you must monitor your Varroa load and treat if necessary. The jury is still out in my opinion on treating for noseama. We don’t simply because it’s rarely a problem in more than a hive or two and I’m not sure it’s linked to the cause or is simply a symptom at this point.
But more importantly, have we learned anything else from this? I seriously doubt it. Bees and bee products are still being imported with whatever foreign disease they may have. And I’m sure the same will be done with other bees in the future as it’s been done many times already. Of course this artificial continental migration of species is a topic and problem in itself.
(Note. The above is simply my take on the situation after reading the currently available literature in Bee Culture and other periodicals. The research is not 100% certain these are the causes and really only suggest imported bees are at fault. But until evidence to the contrary is brought forward, if it looks like a duck…..)