GardenDrumCan bees be saved by mushrooms?

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MUSHROOMS can save our honey bees? Not usually an association you’d think of, but it seems that mushrooms might hold a key to preventing Colony Collapse Disorder.

Washington mycologist Paul Stamets first had some idea there was a symbiotic relationship between bees and mushrooms when he began noticing honey bees buzzing among the woodchips in his garden. Closer inspection revealed they seemed to feeding on the mushroom’s mycelium, and he began to think about why. Further research showed that it was certain species in a class of mushrooms called polypores that were attracting the bees. These polypores carry substances that were not only antiviral but also helped bees break down foreign chemical substances, like pesticides and herbicides, and boosted the bees’ immune systems.

After teaming up with entomologist Steve Sheppard at Washington State University, the research has continued.

Colony Collapse Disorder, in which whole colonies of bees disappear is thought to be caused by a mix of many factors including the spread of the deadly varroa mite, exposure to harmful pesticides and herbicides, and loss of bee foraging plants. The joint research project has identified several fungal extracts that may help bees fight off varroa mites. Beekeepers in the USA now regularly lose up to 30% of their honey bees each year.

The funguses chosen grow on birch, willow and fir trees which also exude a resin that bees forage for to seal up gaps in their hives. When the fungal extracts were mixed with sugar water and fed to the bees, the bees had no observable side effects and stayed alive longer than the control group. How the fungal extracts work and which viruses they are helping to control needs more research.

Another fungus with exciting potential is Metarhizum anisopliae which can parasitise insects. The research team has developed hives made from from compressed sawdust panels that’s been mixed with this fungus, and they will also insert panels into existing hives, to try and expose the bees to the fungal spore dust without damaging the bees.

This video shows how the bees are strongly attracted to the fungus-sugar cocktail.

More detailed information at Crosscut.com

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