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Using Mushroom Extract To Combat Honeybee Diseases.
What about mushrooms that have given honey bees a second chance at life? The bee-keeping industry has never been the same since Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) wreaked havoc on local honey bee colonies. Since then, honey beekeepers have lost roughly 30% of their hives annually. As a result of the effects of CCD, the US production of honey saw some of its worst performance in decades with only about 30% of total honey available for use in the country coming from the domestic honey industry.
Why should you “bee” concerned?
1 out of 3 bites of food you eat is because of the pollination of honey bees. They help pollinate our plants, which means that they carry pollen between plants of different sexes to fertilize them, or even between different parts of the same plant which helps them reproduce. Sadly, bees are under threat on numerous fronts. Much of the agricultural productivity of the US is dependent on honey bees, so it comes as no surprise when our attention is drawn to honey bee health. When the honey bee suffers, so does our agriculture. As a result, all those who depend on the bounty of flowering plants are affected.
The recent declines in honey bee populations from CCD starting in 2006 have had serious consequences on the beekeeping industry as well as domestic honey production rates. It has captured the world's attention as one of the serious threats to one of the most hard-working pollinators in the world.
The Evils of CCD
Colony Collapse Disorder is when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), researchers have discovered many reasons behind the causes of numerous honey bee diseases.
- Increased losses due to the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honey bees).
- New or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema.
- Pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control.
- Stress bees experience due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services.
- Changes to the habitat where bees forage.
- Inadequate forage/poor nutrition.
- Potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of factors identified above.
However, in attempting to explore a solution to these problems, a group of scientists stumbled upon an amazing discovery.
What’s the latest buzz with mushrooms?
Despite the seemingly grim status of domestic honey bees, all hope is not lost just yet. In 2014, a groundbreaking research called Beefriendly started operations to help reverse devastating declines in the global bee population. Experiments began in 2015 when honey bees drank different mushroom mycelium extracts to help the expert team led by Paul Stamets, Dr Steve Sheppard and the Washington State Beekeepers Association understand the immune benefits to bees from mushrooms.
Paul Stamets, who owns the medicinal mushroom company Fungi Perfecti near Olympia, Washington had observed a relationship between honeybees and mushrooms when he observed bees sipping on sugar-rich fungal roots growing in his backyard. He theorized that fungi found in the old-growth forests of western Washington can help provide health benefits to honey bees.
He was right.
Research indicated that mushroom mycelium extracts provide essential nutrition that confers an immune benefit to bees. This nutritional support then translates into improved hive health and in turn helps combat diseases such as CCD. If proved to be successful, this discovery could help eliminate the stressors threatening bee populations and in turn, food biosecurity in the world.
Stamets noted, “Bees have immune systems just like we do, these mushrooms are like miniature pharmaceutical factories.”
In the journal, Scientific Reports Steve Sheppard, a WSU entomology professor and one of the paper's authors, states that "Our greatest hope is that these extracts have such an impact on viruses that they may help varroa mites become an annoyance for bees, rather than causing huge devastation."
Groundbreaking studies such as this offer a creative and effective solution to serious threats affecting local beekeepers. The insect-killing fungi in mushrooms have been used as an alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides for years, and previous studies show that one type of entomopathogenic fungus can weaken the parasitic mites in beehives.
Thanks to these discoveries, the future of honey bees in the US appears to be sweeter than before!