New Found in Newfoundland
Scientists have discovered honeybee colonies in Newfoundland, Canada, which are free from the parasites affecting hives in the U.S., affording a unique research opportunity. Fungal parasites such as Nosema ceranae and viral vectors like the mite, Varroa destructor are ravaging honeybee populations throughout the U.S. and around the world making research into their effects difficult due to the lack of available healthy populations to compare as a control group. But somehow, a portion of Newfoundland remains untouched by either of the identified parasites.
Nancy Ostiguy, associate professor of entomology at Penn State, is currently researching colony collapse and is using the parasite-free zone as a control group. Her research team used molecular testing techniques to verify the absence of viruses and fungal parasites in managed hives in the designated region. Visual screening methods were used to ascertain the presence or absence of mites. The researchers then collected empirical data on the health or illness of colonies and correlated that with the presence/absence data of viruses and mites. Nosema apis, a species that has been displaced by Nosema ceranae elsewhere was detected in the Newfoundland colonies, black queen cell virus and deformed wing virus pathogens were also identified. However, in spite of the presence of the parasites and pathogens mortality rates and colony losses were very low, similar to those found in the U.S. prior to the introduction of Varroa destructor.
Ostiguy’s research group found that the otherwise healthy Newfoundland hive populations suffered from a condition termed “K-wing”, where the wings are positioned asymmetrically. It was previously thought that K-wing was not associated with any pathogen, yet, the researchers from Penn State found positive correlation between the presence of black queen cell virus and K-wing deformities. Ostiguy says that her team will continue to investigate the relationships among honey bees their parasites and pathogens, along with other possible stressors. Their goal is to provide information to help keep honey bees healthy and stem the wave of colony collapse.