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«STATEMENT OF DR. CAIRD REXROAD ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR, AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE BEFORE THE UNITED ...»

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Beltsville scientists are also studying bee immune responses and disease resistance, having recently discovered that it is possible to trigger bee immunity to the American foulbrood bacterium by feeding bee larvae a non-pathogenic bacterium. Researchers at this location have also identified a genetic screen that can be used to look for resistance.

A recent CSREES-NRI grant has funded ARS scientists to study genomic approaches to disease resistance in honey bees. Aspects of Hatch-funded research at Land Grant Universities include investigations on the control of the small hive beetle and on genetic and cultural methods to control Nosema apis disease. University scientists are also investigating mechanisms of disease virulence, transmission, and epidemiology of honey bees.

Migratory Stress Migratory stress is another stressor that may contribute to CCD; migration has increased due to increased demands on beekeepers for colonies for almond pollination, resulting in bee crowding and lack of hygiene, as well as forced mixing of old foragers and young nurse bees, which can spread disease. It is common for 10 percent of colonies to die after transportation, with losses of 30 percent possible after the pollination of some crops.

During the migration process, colonies can also become stressed due to splitting – the dividing of a colony into one or more new colonies. Older bees that are forced to act as nurse bees may be less effective at provisioning, and may carry increased pathogen loads. In addition, the use of contaminated equipment or old comb during splitting could expose bees to increased levels of pathogens or pesticides accumulating in comb wax.

ARS has recently begun investigating the effects of migratory stress. In 2005, the ARS location in Weslaco began to study whether and how hive movement affects the health of bees.

Pesticides Finally, many pesticides are toxic to bees. Based on findings from the bee genome, it has become apparent that bees have very weak detoxifying systems for breaking down pesticides.

Applications of pesticides such as the miticide coumaphos (used for controlling the varroa mite) can accumulate in hive wax, reducing worker longevity, and killing queens reared in that wax.

In addition, even if not lethal to bees, some pesticides may increase the stress levels of bees, making colonies more susceptible to disease. And the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid has been shown to impair neurological function in bees. If so, foraging bees, which rely on memory to locate food and water and find their way back to the hive, might be particularly vulnerable.

We hypothesize, therefore, that factors that stress bees or impair bee brain function may be linked to bee disappearance in CCD.

ARS and our university partners plan to expand on these findings to study the effect of pesticides on bee brains, and to test the effects of pesticides on bees in the apiary. ARS is now participating with the CCD Working Group to organize a program that will further investigate the effects of pesticide exposure on bees under field conditions. We need field studies to determine if pesticides in this category are harming bees in the field, not only during acute exposure, but also at sublethal dose levels. Are they disrupting bee learning or the colony’s social harmony?

ARS Areawide Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Project and Bee Nutrition and Health While we continue to look for the cause of CCD, ARS also intends to test current technologies in an attempt to produce healthy bees, no matter what stress they are under. This will be done through our Areawide Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Project, a project to investigate almonds in California and other crops elsewhere, which will focus on migratory beekeeping.

This bee project, which would study varroa management, would also address other bee parasites, diseases, and predators such as the small hive beetle, which feeds on hive stores of honey and pollen. Significantly, however, it focuses on bee health by improving their nutrition, as we have achieved through the development of supplemental diets at Tucson. Poor nutrition, due to overcrowding of bee colonies, pollination of crops with low nutritional value, or lack of pollen or nectar, has been associated with poor bee health and is a suspected contributor to CCD. Even well-provisioned colonies may be weak coming out of the winter, so we have sugars and pollen substitutes that help them increase their numbers before bloom. This is particularly important for pollination of almonds, which bloom early in the season.

In 2006, we tested the Areawide concept for bee health and showed that the winter feeding of protein is beneficial to bees, but that colonies already in a weakened state before winter do not grow sufficiently to meet pollination standards for almonds. The entire Areawide Project will incorporate additional studies that simulate poor nutritional conditions for bees in the summer and fall and incorporate corrective management practices.

CSREES-NRI has funded key research on the impact of plastic combs on recruitment, communication, and honey production, as well as on the commercial development of a synthetic pheromone to increase foraging and pollination efficiency. A new multi-state research project supported by CSREES will collaborate with the CCD Working Group to address CCD and other apiary problems.

OUTREACH AND EXTENSION

ARS conducts outreach to key stakeholders through workshops such as the Customer Workshop on Bees and through regularly scheduled programmatic review processes that involve diverse stakeholder groups. CSREES provides significant funding for extension programs related to beekeeping, pollinators, and honey production. Currently, extension entomologists with responsibilities for apiculture are active in 21 states. These programs are funded in part by formula-based allocations through the Smith-Lever Act, in addition to state and county-based funding.

FUTURE RESEARCH AND OUTREACH PLANS

To date, research indicates that there are a few common factors shared by beekeepers experiencing CCD, but no common environmental agents or chemicals standing out as causative.

In an effort to solve this problem, ARS will work to continue and expand its research to address this problem. In the future, the Agency will involve researchers from all ARS laboratories in the CCD Working Group. ARS will also be coordinating the development of a 5-year Strategic Plan with the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, university researchers, the bee industry, and growers, to develop and implement research projects to investigate and solve the problem.

In particular, researchers will be capitalizing on the recently released honey bee genome to investigate those areas listed above and many others related to bee health. Both ARS’ intramural and CSREES’ extramural programs have been instrumental in supporting this accomplishment.

The use of this genomic information will have great applications in improving honey bee breeding and management. As an initial step, university researchers are preparing to submit a proposal to the CSREES Critical and Emerging Pests and Diseases Program to use microarray hybridization assays to identify genes associated with CCD. Samples of bees from healthy and declining colonies have already been collected through the auspices of the CCD Working Group and the American Beekeeping Federation.

Mr. Chairman, ARS and CSREES, in collaboration with other USDA agencies and private institutions, conduct and fund much ongoing research that addresses the paradigm surrounding CCD. We will continue to work to improve bee health and prevent colony collapse. These efforts will be critical in checking CCD as it causes damages to beekeepers, the pollination industry, and agricultural producers across the United States.

The USDA REE mission area, through both ARS and CSREES, is pleased to conduct and fund research and provide leadership in this effort to solve the mystery of colony collapse disorder.

We thank you for the opportunity to share our research with you. Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions at this time.



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