Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon that is impacting bee population in the United States and around the world. Last winter (2015-2016) in the US over 42% of beehives collapsed. Millions of bees died. Bees are a primary pollinator for multiple crops worldwide and account for the pollination of approximately 60% of our food. They are a keystone species in our local and global ecosystems.
There have been a number of factors that have been identified as having roles in why a particular hive or a set of hives will collapse and perish. One factor is the Varroa destructor mite. This parasite feeds off of live adult bees and the bee larvae. They can quickly overtake and decimate the hive. Their presence strains the immune functioning, decreases overall health, and reduces bee life span considerably. The Varroa mite can also vector viral and bacterial pathogens including Deformed Wing and Lake Sinai Viruses. These viruses leave the adult bees unable to function within the hive, reducing overall viability of the hive.
“Other factors that negatively impact bees include pesticide and other synthetic agricultural sprays.”
Bees have fewer enzymatic detoxification pathways in their livers, meaning they can’t effectively clear their bodies of toxins when they are exposed to these chemicals. As the level of toxins builds up, the bees become disoriented and don’t make it back to the hive. Toxic buildup and impaired functioning also reduces longevity, frequently killing the bees before they can do their important work within the hives.
In 1984, Paul Stamets, D.Sc. Hon, observed an interesting phenomenon when he was tending a particular mushroom patch near his home. Over a series of weeks, Paul noticed that bees would make a continuous visitation to one particular area of the mushroom patch where they would move aside wood chips and uncover the mycelia or root structure of the mushroom. As the days progressed, he noticed that the size of the wood chip mound diminished as the bees continuously ‘sipped’ at the mycelial liquids. Taking a few pictures of what he considered interesting bee behavior, he filed it under ‘”things that make you go ‘huh’”. Fast-forward to 2014 and the media coverage on Colony Collapse Disorder, Paul remembered the interesting bee behavior and contacted Steve Shephard, PhD (Chair of the Entomology Department at Washington State University). When Paul and Steve discussed Paul’s observations, Steve became very interested.
Understanding the Research
Above Image features Paul Stamets. Credit: Betsy Bullman
“In controlled experiments some mushroom liquids even reduced viruses in bees by 90% or more against the control group.”
In 2015 Washington State University began running preliminary tests to see if the mycelial extracts from polypore mushrooms would have any benefit on bee health and longevity. What this preliminary data suggests is that the liquids that mushroom mycelia secrete may in fact be very helpful in reducing viral presence and extending the lifespan of bees. In controlled experiments some mushroom liquids even reduced viruses in bees by 90% or more against the control group. And specific mushrooms were able to increase the longevity of bees as well, allowing some bees to live 75% longer lives.
The basic data was so promising, that the research is being expanded. In conjunction with commercial beekeepers across Washington State, mycelial extracts were fed to hundreds of hives over winter 2016-2017. In the spring of 2017 these hives were compared to control group hives to see if the mushroom extracts have any significant impact on their health and longevity as they overwinter. Dr. Paul Stamets and Host Defense together are very hopeful and excited about these studies. We, and indeed many people across the world, are very concerned about the plight of bees. In October 2016, Hawaii declared 7 wild species of bee as endangered. Bee specialists worldwide suggest that if we don’t figure out a way to help bees live longer and healthier lives we may see worldwide extinction of bees in five to ten years!
What can you do to help?
This is a great question. Many people feel powerless to stop such a huge and rapid attack on bees. But each of us in fact can take a number of small yet significant steps to help our bees.
First: stop using synthetic pesticides and choose organic options for pest and ‘weed’ control.
Second: plant wild flowers. Yes, I said wild flowers. Native and managed bee colonies love wildflowers. The diversity of wildflower pollen and nutrients increases bee and hive health.
Third: inoculate and tend your gardens and soils and mulch with beneficial mushroom species like Reishi. If the mushroom mycelia establish themselves, the bees can find their way to your mushroom patch and sip the immune supportive liquids on their own.
Do your part to keep bees buzzing lively…Give Bees a Chance!
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