Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) of honey bees is threatening to annihilate U.S. and world agriculture. Indeed, in the recent outbreak of CCD in the US in the winter of 2006-2007, an estimated 25%, or more than 2.4 million, honey bee hives were lost because of CCD. An estimated 23% of beekeeping operations in the US suffered from CCD over the winter of 2006-2007, affecting an average of 45% of beekeepers’ operations. In the winter of 2007-2008, the CCD action group of the USDA-ARS estimated that a total of 36% of all hives from commercial operations were destroyed by CCD.

The phenomenon of CCD was first reported in 2006; however, beekeepers noted unique colony declines consistent with CCD as early as 2004. CCD is characterized by the rapid loss of adult bee populations from colonies, with dead adult bees usually found at a distance from the colony. At the final stages of collapse, a queen is attended only by a few newly emerged adult bees. Collapsed colonies often have considerable capped brood and food reserves.

Various factors such as mites and infectious agents, weather patterns, electromagnetic (cellular antennas) radiation, pesticides, poor nutrition and stress have been postulated as causes. To date, control of CCD has focused on varroa mite control, sanitation and removal of affected hives, treatment for opportunistic infections (such as Nosema) and improved nutrition. No effective preventative measures have been developed to date.

The idea that CCD is due to the introduction of a previously unrecognized infectious agent is supported by preliminary evidence that CCD is transmissible through the reuse of equipment from CCD colonies and that such transmission can be broken by irradiation of the equipment before use.

Recently, Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) of bees was strongly correlated with CCD. Table 1 below shows that although other etiological agents of diseases in honeybees were found in CCD colonies, many were also found in apparently healthy, asymptomatic operations. In contrast, IAPV was not only found in 83% of CCD colonies, but was almost completely absent from apparently healthy colonies.

Table I: Analysis of bees tested for pathological candidates in CCD and non-CCD operations

Positive predictive value (%)
25 (83.3%)
1 (4.8%)
26 (51.0%)
30 (100%)
16 (76.2%)
46 (90.2%)
27 (90%)
10 (47.6%)
37 (72.5%)
N. ceranae
30 (100%)
17 (80.9%)
47 (92.1%)
All four agents
23 (76.7%)
0 (0%)
23 (45.0%)

Table I: Analysis of bees tested for pathological candidates in CCD and non-CCD operations

IAPV- Israel Acute Paralysis Virus; KBV- Kashmir Bee Virus; N. apis- Nosema APIs; N. ceranae- Nosema ceranae.

From: Diana L. Cox-Foster et al. (2007) A Metagenomic Survey of Microbes in Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder; Science 318: 283-286.

Moreover, it was recently shown that when injected or fed to the bees, IAPV causes paralysis and death in 98% of bees within days, further confirming IAPV as the infective agent in CCD.

The importance of honey bees to the global world economy far surpasses their contribution in terms of honey production, because beehives are used for the pollination of many major fruit crops. The USDA now estimates that every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent upon honey bee pollination. In the US alone, the total contribution of pollination in terms of added value to fruit crops exceeds $15 billion per annum (Kaplan, 2007). CCD-related losses (direct and indirect) have been estimated at $75 billion (Swinton et al., Ecological Economics volume 64, pages 245-252; 2007).

Beeologics – working together to address the bee crisis