It wasn’t pesticides or any mysterious effects of biotech crops that was killing bee colonies. According to research released this week, the complicated reason for the widespread collapse of bee colonies in the United States was a fungus teaming up with a virus.
According to a story in The New York Times, a group of military scientists and university entomologists has concluded that the interaction between a virus and a fungus was killing the bees. Researchers still are not sure how the lethal combination works, but the fungus and virus work together to attack the bee’s ability to absorb nutrition.
One factor complicating the diagnosis was the fact that affected bees did not simply return to the hive and die. Once infected by the two-headed attacker, they would fly away from the hive, disperse and die alone. That made it difficult to find enough dead bees to conduct analytical autopsies, according to Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana, who led a team that included scientists from Montana State University and the U.S. Army’s Edgewood chemical Biological Center near Baltimore. According to the findings, the virus-fungus combo was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seemed able to devastate, but together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal, according to the story.
“It’s chicken and egg in a sense. We don’t know which came first,” Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo. Nor was it clear whether one of the agents weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound the other’s destructive power. “They’re co-factors, that’s all we can say at the moment,” he said. “They’re both present in all these collapsed colonies.”