Last year beekeepers began reporting loss of 30% to 90% of their hives. Dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, the affliction has a major impact on agriculture because bees are the number one pollinator of crops. The USDA's Agricultural Research Service has been searching for answers to the mysterious disappearance of bees.
Recent research has focused on the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. Although it is considered a link to CCD, it isn't necessarily the cause. Kim Kaplan of ARS says research shows that IAPV has been in the U.S. since 2002.
"Because it's been here since 2002 and we didn't start having CCD until last year it can't be the primary factor," Kaplan says. "It could easily be one of the factors, meaning something may have weakened the hives and suddenly IAPV was more pathogenic."
Another possibility is that IAPV weakened the colony and then exposure to a second factor caused CCD. Researchers are now trying to figure out which factors go into the mix of causing the syndrome.
"Research continues into a variety of factors such as pathogens, disease causers, parasites, environmental stresses including pesticides and management stresses such as poor nutrition or other problems," Kaplan says.