For many years now there has been extremely high winter mortality in the United States, a higher than acceptable winter mortality in many countries and regions in Europe, a very considerable increase in brood diseases (AFB) and problems with the queen bees.
There is still no feasible solution for the high winter mortality problems despite the extensive research that has been conducted since 2007. All the more reason, therefore, to examine the problem from a different perspective.
Bee decline is a system disease, because this occurs all over the world, in a very diverse range of environments. The symptoms, such as empty hives, problems with reproduction (drone and queen bee infertility), and winter mortality, occur everywhere in the world. The viruses DWV and BQCV are found almost everywhere, and varroa mites are present in bee colonies in almost every country. The same holds true for Nosema ceranae.
The processes that take place in the bees and bee colonies are the same as those that occur everywhere else in ecological systems, however, the consequences are reflected in different ways.
Causes and consequences
Varroa mites and viruses are consequences, not causes. Bee colonies also die if there are no varroa mites present. Neither the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) nor the Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV) are decisive in these circumstances.
Varroa, pesticides and the lack of sufficient flowers are still seen as the primary cause of the problems. Intensive farming, loss of habitat, climate change and beekeeper practice are often mentioned as adverse factors for bee colonies.
It is unclear what role each of these possible causes play in the bee decline as a whole. This is difficult determine, certainly as long as the experts cannot explain and do not understand exactly why bees suddenly ‘disappear’ and why they actually die.
The presence of pathogens doesn't say that much. In the first place, contracting a disease is a signal that something is wrong. Humans and animals often make a full recovery, and of course that also applies to bee colonies.
To find a solution to the problems in the apiary industry (disappearing, mortality and reproduction problems), the most important thing is that a proper, correct and unambiguous diagnosis of this system disease is made. When making a diagnosis, not only should the symptoms and pathogens of the disease be fully described, but also an accurate analysis of the processes involved in the disease should be made. Symptoms of this system disease, which also occur in surface water, for instance, help us to analyze the problems in the apiary industry.
From the fact that high bee mortality is even found in conservation areas with a rich and varied flora and where no pesticides are used, we can deduct that the most frequently cited causes - ‘pesticides’ and ‘lack of plants with pollen and nectar’ - are therefore not the primary causes of bee mortality and decline in the number of bee colonies throughout the season.
It is also a well-known fact that bee colonies disappear in situations where there are no varroa mites, so we can deduce that varroa is not a decisive factor in this.
Because the symptoms are the same everywhere, there must be an underlying factor, which is present everywhere. We are working on the principle that this is something in the air.
In particular, the combination of NOx and manganese, is in our view the fundamental, most important and most decisive factor that occurs throughout the world. This has a clear influence on the mineral metabolism and on the metabolism of iron in particular. Problems with the availability of iron have immediate influence on the energy systems, the neurological system and the immune system. An iron deficiency can therefore manifest itself in various ways. When an organism has an iron deficiency, certain other minerals, such as manganese become relatively more important.
In order to clarify exactly what is going on, we need some knowledge and understanding of the underlying fundamental processes. The first process is the transformation of NOx/nitrate into ammonia (NH3). This causes the conditions to become alkaline, in other words the acidity decreases. As conditions drift away from neutral (pH > 7) various minerals cease to be soluble, and are consequently no longer available. That applies in particular for iron, which is then practically no longer soluble, and thus no longer available.
Such alkaline conditions occur regularly. Each time this happens, a certain amount of iron is deposited in a completely insoluble form. From then on, that iron is no longer available, and each time this happens the bee colony loses another portion of its iron stocks.
In slightly alkaline conditions manganese is still soluble and available. Manganese then replaces iron. An exchange between iron and manganese takes place. Shifts in solubility and availability of minerals have considerable consequences for the bees and for bee colonies. This is the second process.
Effect on microorganisms
The increasing availability of manganese at the expense of iron also influences the microbial composition. In other words, certain bacteria and other microorganisms can grow better, and can take the upper hand. This is the third process. Note that these are not pathogenic micro-organisms.
The fourth process is that these other microorganisms produce certain substances, which change the behavior of the bee colonies. This is why the bees suddenly disappear, the colony collapses, CCD occurs, and this is also how diseases spread throughout the colony. And in this manner, varroa gets an opportunity to multiply. Empty hives and an increase in the numbers of varroa mites are examples of the beekeeper's observations of the processes mentioned here.
For you as beekeeper it is important that you know something about the processes explained above. Because these processes which can later result in the disappearance or mortality of your bee colonies commence under humid conditions. This is why we recommend that, at the least, you administer Ferro-Bee® to your bee colonies in humid weather conditions.
In a next article we will give a detailed explanation about how certain bacteria ensure that varroa survives and multiplies in your bee colonies.