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Mite’s Spread in Hawaii Plays Role in Bee Research

June 8, 2012, 6:12 PM HST (Updated June 11, 2012, 5:21 PM)
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The arrival of the varroa mite in Hawaii five years ago was bad news for the state’s beekeepers, but that event has helped researchers learn more about a major bee malady.

Scientists in the United Kingdom and Hawaii have found that the mites play a role in spreading what is usually a mild virus, The Guardian reported Thursday.

The combination of the mites and the deformed wing virus is now being linked to colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon that is causing hives to disappear in many parts of the world, the newspaper said.

Varroa mites first appeared on Oahu in 2007. That year 274 of 419 colonies on the island disappeared. The mite made its way to the Big Island the following year.

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Genetic analysis of bees on both islands showed that a year after the appearance of the mites, levels of deformed wing virus (DWV) in hives soared exponentially. Researchers said the result has been deadly to colonies.

According to the research published in the journal Science, without the mite, levels of DWV remained low.

The researchers found that the mite magnified the impact of the virus in three ways. When the mite attacks the bee it transmit the virus directly into its bloodstream, bypassing the bee’s usual defenses. The virus also multiplies rapidly in the varroa mite and the DWV strain most compatible to the mite is one to which bees are particularly susceptible.

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Even if beekeepers are able to control the mite, levels of DWV remain high, which makes it even more critical to prevent the varroa’s spread, the researchers said.

According to the Guardian, the Big Island plays a prominent role in the beekeeping industry because that is where nearly all of the queens used in the US are bred.

The spread of the mite-virus combination is also feared to have a major impact on the Big Island macadamia nut industry which is entirely dependent of bees for pollination, the newspaper said.

In recognition of the threat posed by bee pests, the Hawaii Legislature recently passed a bill appropriating $20,000 for hive research to be divided between the state’s counties. Another $10,000 was earmarked for the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

 ***Updated June 6 to correct references to mites and virus in the seventh paragraph.***

 

 

 

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