One of the principal reasons for the decline in managed honeybee colonies in Europe and other countries is extensive and unpredictable colony death. Despite enormous research efforts invested worldwide to explain colony losses, no single factor or agent emerged as a definitive cause of the phenomenon. The best hypothesis is that particular virulent combination of parasites and pathogens may interact to produce lethal consequences to the colonies in an environmental context of chronic exposure to pesticides.
With this background a call for proposals was open under the agriculture theme of the Research Framework Programme 7 with the objective to identify emerging or re-emerging pests and diseases and explaining the intimate mechanisms and reasons for the increased bee mortality. The BEE DOC (Bees in EuropE and the Decline Of honeybee Colonies - first periodic report) project has been selected and started in March 2010 on the effects of multiple infections and pesticides at individual bee level and at colony level. It will tackle genomic responses towards the most important factors identified, help to prevent diseases emergence via disease resistance features, develop diagnostic tools including tools to be used at field level and focus on innovative ways of prevention and control addressing the multi-factorial causes of colony death.
The declines in European wild bees and other insect pollinators were quantified by the ALARM project which also assessed the drivers responsible for the observed losses including habitat loss, fragmentation, pesticides, invasives and climate change. Based on this work the STEP project (Status and Trends of European Pollinators - first periodic report) is assessing the impacts pollinator declines are having on agriculture, biodiversity and wider society. STEP is developing mitigation strategies to ensure pollinators are protected and managed for sustainable pollination services. The project will provide evidence to help adapt existing polices and management practices and also develop novel polices where needed.
Previous Framework Programme 6 projects addressing both issues of honeybee diseases and consecutive potential contamination of honey have delivered some results that may help to progress towards novel treatment and control methods. The BRAVE support action intended to assess the level of risk and the likely consequences for honeybees and other closely related pollinators of the introduction of bee viruses to European colonies of honeybees and ecosystems. The BEE SHOP research project has addressed specific issues relating to honey contamination by pesticides and treatments used to combat pests and pathogens in the hive. It has produced a manual for beekeepers on the best husbandry practices to preserve the hygiene of the hive and a number of outcomes on the potential to increase bee resistance to viruses and parasites.
Finally, the COLOSS COST action has built up a network of researchers and other stakeholders across Europe to follow the evolution of colony losses and to join forces of participants in national research programmes to understand and combat the factors responsible for major colony losses.