The U.S. honeybee population has experienced a sudden and unprecedented decline, with about a quarter of the country's 2.4 million colonies have died off since the fall of 2006. The mysterious phenomenon, called Colony Collapse Disorder, can quickly wipe out entire colonies - and after months of scrambling for an explanation, researchers may have found one.
Scientists from Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and University of California San Francisco have found a fungus that could be linked to CCD. A "hastily convened" USDA CCD working group of about 60 bee researchers met this week to discuss how to proceed.
UCSF biochemist Joe DeRisi stresses that the results are "highly preliminary," based on a small number of hives, but other researchers from around the country said Wednesday that Nosema ceranae, a single-celled parasite, has shown up in their hives as well. Researchers have also found two other fungi and several viruses in the dead bees from collapsed hives.
The drastic colony losses are cause for alarm not only for honey producers, but also for the one-third of U.S. crops - particularly fruits and nuts - that rely on bees for pollination.