scientists have identified a new parasite in bees on the Coromandel
peninsula, one of several regions around New Zealand that have
reported the loss of thousands of colonies of honey bees since last
spring and a substantial drop in honey harvests since.
passim, a parasite that attacks the gut of honey bees, was
only discovered by a team of American researchers about six months
confirmed presence in Coromandel hives has rung alarm bells for
beekeepers who fear another major biosecurity challenge for their
industry, hard on the heels of the varroa mite which arrived in the
North Island in 2000.
sources confirm bee losses on the Coromandel Peninsula last spring
amounted to thousands of colonies. Reports suggest up to 95 per cent
of bees in each hive disappeared without trace, with production
losses of between 40 and 65 per cent for many large commercial
beekeepers in the region.
of similar bee losses have surfaced from the Raglan and Wairarapa
regions while Canterbury hobbyists have reported very heavy hive
losses in Christchurch city last autumn.
surviving colonies of bees on the Coromandel had very high levels
of Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae, two
recently discovered unicellular parasites that also attack the gut of
more virulent Nosema ceranae was only identified in
western honey bees about a decade ago and first appeared on the
Coromandel in 2010. It has been identified as a possible cause of
colony collapse disorder (CCD) in the United States, although
scientists debate that link because it is also found in healthy bee
commercial beekeeper and scientist Dr Oksana Borowik said the
disappearance of large numbers of bees from her hives between late
August and early December 2014 happened very quickly and was
devastating, with a 65 per cent loss of production.
about 15 other beekeepers on the Coromandel met to compare notes,
many reported significant unexplained losses of bees from the western
side of the peninsula between Great Barrier Island and Thames.
tested for pesticide exposure and we haven't found any evidence of
that," Borowik said.
found the pathogen Nosema ceranae in 50 of her hives
- both healthy and sick hives - and started to look for some other
her background as a geneticist and bee scientist, Borowik wondered
if Lotmaria passim, a pathogen only discovered by a
team of researchers in the United States about six months ago, was
present in her hives and possibly working in synergy with other
parasites, such as Nosema ceranae.
tests by Gisborne researcher John Mackay confirmed the presence of
this new pathogen.
is the first time it has ever been recorded here, probably because
no-one has ever bothered looking," Borowik said. "We don't
known if lotmaria is killing bees but we have identified it as
trying to identify what killed them and have to do further research
to figure out what is going on, either in synergy with Nosema
ceranae or on its own."
and Food Research scientist Dr Mark Goodwin confirmed there was
nothing to link the new pathogen to the disappearance of bees last
spring on the Coromandel.
guess is this new organism has been here for a while actually, unless
it's a completely new incursion from a biosecurity failure, but we
don't know if it has just come in or if it has been here for years."
said it was difficult to prove the cause of colony losses last spring
because it was so long after the event, most of the bees had
abandoned their hives and scientists could only sample the surviving
bees that remained.
have some information but we are a long way from establishing what
the cause is," he said. "We're talking thousands of
colonies here. Beekeepers I've talked to have had between 40 and 60
per cent of their hives affected. It's really quite big numbers."
had reports from Wairarapa as well. The symptoms they describe sound
as though it's the same thing. Without being there that's probably a
reasonable assumption, but we don't know it's the same thing."
a disease outbreak occurred in a hive, Goodwin said sick bees would
often abandon the hive to save the colony, behaviour also observed in
bee hives under threat from the varroa mite.
the Coromandel bee colonies that survived, he said bee numbers of
most had recovered sufficiently to survive the winter but not enough
to produce a honey crop. Scientists had joined some hives and found
whatever caused the problem did not appear to spread from one hive to Юanother.
reluctant to draw any links between the Coromandel bee losses and
colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has been blamed for huge losses
of honey bees in North America and Europe.
said the description of bee losses here was "in some ways very
similar to colony collapse disorder".
difference is in the timing," he said. CCD usually occurred in
autumn while the Coromandel bee losses occurred in spring. "Whether
that is significant or not, we don't know at this stage.
beekeepers affected this year, it was a major issue for them. The
question is whether it is going to be a major issue for them again
next year," he said.
said there could be many reasons why bees were disappearing.
is just one of them but I don't have any evidence of that," she
said. "There's no reason to raise the alarm because we don't
know what's causing it."
there are antibiotics used for the treatment of the Nosema
ceranae parasite, but they are not registered for use in New
have advised the Ministry for Primary Industries of the discovery of
the new Lotmaria passim pathogen in New Zealand and
are working closely with the ministry sampling bees to try and
establish the cause of bee loses.
response to written questions, the Ministry for Primary
Industries said it had invited other scientists and bee experts to
collaborate on the investigation.
new diagnostic techniques, they identified an organism (Lotmaria
passim) not previously detected in New Zealand," the
ministry said in a statement. "This organism is thought to have
been first detected in Australia in the 1960s. At that time the
organism was not reported as being a major cause of bee mortality."
said Lotmaria passim was likely to have been present
in New Zealand for some time, and had simply gone undetected until
the advancement in diagnostic techniques enabled scientists to detect
it. It said the importance of its detection here was not known.
ministry said because the case definition for Colony Collapse
Disorder (CCD) was very vague, it believed "it would be unwise
to link the recent mortality events in regions of New Zealand,
particularly the event in the Coromandel operation, with CCD."