My first published article examined implications of the massive collapse of honeybee populations on business, so I feel compelled to comment on the latest development in the hunt for the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD).

There is a new article out on the subject by a team led by University of Montana researchers and the US Army Chemical Biological center.  Using proteomic sequencing, they found two culprits in the bodies of dead bees: invertebrate iridescent virus (IIV), a long-stranded DNA virus, and Nosema, a fungal spore.  Both had been detected in bees found dead of CCD before, but here they showed that affected bees were most likely to have both pathogens working in concert.

It’s an encouraging development.  However, I’d like to point out that news coverage that emphasizes the “we found it!” narrative misses the important lessons that have come out of the CCD experience.  Previous researchers had predicted that the cause of CCD would not likely be a new pathogen but a combination of interacting effects, and pointed out that the rise of highly technical, industrialized monoculture beekeeping in the U.S. had left bee-pollinated agriculture vulnerable to new combinations such as these.   The effects of pesticides, stress, and the mass trucking of bee populations around the country are still unknown but likely exacerbate the effects of pests, new and old.

If we can protect bees from IIV and Nosema, great.  However, it is just as important to build resilience and diversity into our agricultural system so as to reduce the risks associated with unknown future diseases.  Otherwise we will be unprepared for the next CCD that will inevitably come. Bromenshenk, J., Henderson, C., Wick, C., Stanford, M., Zulich, A., Jabbour, R., Deshpande, S., McCubbin, P., Seccomb, R., Welch, P., Williams, T., Firth, D., Skowronski, E., Lehmann, M., Bilimoria, S., Gress, J., Wanner, K., & Cramer, R. (2010). Iridovirus and Microsporidian Linked to Honey Bee Colony Decline PLoS ONE, 5 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013181