Bees are largely responsible for regulating our food supply by way of pollinating our crops. Just 2% of bees have been found to be responsible for pollinating 80% of our crops.
They are largely an integral part of numerous ecosystems and losing them means losing birds, mice, squirrels, flowers, and weeds the same.
The bitter truth is that bee populations have been decreasing steadily across the globe over recent years, so it seems that now is more important than ever to find effective methods to protect them.
Bees are facing various threats not historically seen in the U.S., which all contribute to a dramatic increase in colony losses. Yet, much of the blame falls on the aptly-named parasitic mite Varroa destructor, which arrived in force in the 1980s and has since been linked to the spread of at least ten viruses that affect honey bees.
A 2018 study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that a specific type of mushroom extract can help honeybees fight off a devastating virus suspected of contributing to massive bee die-offs in recent years.
Researchers at Washington State University, with the help from the USDA and a Washington based business called Fungi Perfecti, discovered that bee colonies that were given mycelium extract from The mushrooms that belong to the genera Fomes and Ganoderma, known as amadou and reishi, saw a 79-fold reduction in deformed wing virus and a 45,000-fold reduction in Lake Sinai virus.
The deformed wing virus is believed to be one of the largest contributors to the devastation of honeybees worldwide.
It was named for the shrunken and misshapen wings that develop in affected bees, and it robs its hosts of flight, weakens their immune system, and halves their lifespan. The sicker a bee is, and the more useless its wings, the fewer plants it pollinates.
Additionally, the flora visited by an affected bee becomes tainted by the virus, transmitting the infection to future pollinators.
According to one of the authors, WSU entomology professor Steve Sheppard:
“Our greatest hope is that these extracts have such an impact on viruses that they may help varroa mites become an annoyance for bees, rather than causing huge devastation. We’re excited to see where this research leads us.
Time is running out for bee populations and the safety and security of the world’s food supply hinges on our ability to find means to improve pollinator health.
One of the major ways varroa mites hurt bees is by spreading and amplifying viruses. Mites really put stress on the bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to viruses that shorten worker bee lifespans.”
His lab is working with Fungi Perfecti, a company owned by the famous mushroom researcher Paul Stamets, who is also a co-author of the study.
Sheppard explained that “Paul previously worked on a project that demonstrated the antiviral properties of mycelial extracts on human cells. He read about viruses hurting bees and called us to explore the use of the extracts on honey bees. After two years, we demonstrated that those anti-viral properties extend to honey bees.”
Yet, the mycelium extract isn’t available in large quantities for mass distribution now, but Stamets claims they are trying to boost their production volume.
Researchers are not sure how the extract works but believe that it either boosts the immune system or fights the viruses in some way.
Sheppard explained that they are working to figure this out, and also test larger groups of colonies to develop best management practices and determine how much extract should be used and when to have the best effects.