Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Death in the Hive

By Andrew Barron

Almost 5 years since colony collapse was identified, the science tells us there is neither a single cause nor a single solution.

Andrew Barron is a senior lecturer with the Department of Biology at Macquarie University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

In the northern autumn of 2006, beekeepers in the USA began reporting mass deaths of honey bee colonies. Apiaries were full of empty hives. Colonies appeared abandoned. Food stores and sometimes dead brood were left inside hives, but few or no adult bees, or even corpses of adult bees, could be found.

Colonies had failed rapidly and catastrophically. The problem was named colony collapse disorder (CCD), and soon reports of similar devastating colony losses appeared across the globe.

The problems have persisted, and US beekeepers have realised that despite their best efforts they will lose over one-third of their hives each year. This is far more than the industry can sustain, and honey bee populations globally are in severe decline.

So what’s killing the bees? New forms of pesticides, genetically modified crops expressing insecticidal toxins, parasitic mites, fungal diseases, old bee viruses, new bee viruses, intensive agriculture, intensive bee management practices and climate change have all been fingered as causes of CCD. To greater and lesser degrees all of these factors are contributing to the decline of the honey bee.

These stresses on colonies interact in complex ways that are currently not well-understood. For example, pesticide exposure or insufficient diets from floral monocultures may weaken bees’ immune systems. As the global...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.