Source of bacterial disease in Peace region bees a mystery

GIROUXVILLE, Alta. — Bees in the Peace region are facing a new problem that has researchers looking for answers.

Carlos Castillo, an applied scientist and manager at the National Bee Diagnostic Centre in Beaverlodge, Alta., has been delving into what’s believed to be an increase of European foulbrood in the region.

European foulbrood is a bacterial disease that affects larvae who have been fed contaminated food by nurse bees. The disease, which can withstand extreme heat and cold and is more prevalent when bees are stressed, can kill off a hive if it gets extremely bad.

“It’s usually not a big problem in the area, but we have recently seen more diseases in the area with symptoms that point to European foulbrood,” Castillo said.

But researchers don’t know why there has been an increase, he added, so they hope to launch a new project to get to the bottom of it. If it pans out, they will use the findings to inform beekeepers of new management practices to help mitigate the problem.

Castillo said the project, which still needs funding from the federal government, revolves around testing hives that are used to pollinate blueberry patches in British Columbia.

He said researchers are looking at blueberries because lots of bees with problems spent time pollinating them last spring.

“We know the bees have been under stress working with blueberry owners,” he said.

“So, we’re discussing the project with blueberry growers to see if there is any condition in the blueberries that is producing some kind of stress in the bees.”

If the project goes ahead, re-searchers would test those hives next spring. As well, tests would be carried out before, during and after pollination.

Following that, researchers plan to replicate the blueberry situation in the Beaverlodge testing facility with their own hives. This way, they will be able to better monitor the bees and determine how the disease enters the hive and thrives.

Researchers will then develop procedures that make it easier to diagnose the disease.

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