LONDON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- A range of stressors, including disease, parasites and pesticide exposure, have been implicated in the phenomenon of colony collapse disorder.
New research out of Queen Mary University of London doesn't finger a new cause, but instead shows how environmental stressors can push young bees out of the hive too soon -- compounding a hive's poor health and accelerating its collapse.
Scientists found that when environmental pressure causes premature and accelerated fatalities among a hive's older members, young bees are forced to leave the hive and begin foraging sooner than normal -- and before they're ready, evidence suggests.
In healthy hives, bees don't typically leave the hive to forage until they are two to three weeks old. Using radio trackers, researchers found that bees that left the hive at a younger age were more likely to die and complete fewer foraging flights over the course of their lives than those who left their hive later in their development.
"Young bees leaving the hive early is likely to be an adaptive behavior to a reduction in the number of older foraging bees," study author Clint Perry, a researcher at Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, explained in a press release.
"But if the increased death rate continues for too long or the hive isn't big enough to withstand it in the short term, this natural response could upset the societal balance of the colony and have catastrophic consequences," Perry said.
Researchers found that poorer foraging performances and earlier fatalities often precipitated a spiraling decline in hive health.
"Our results suggest that tracking when bees begin to forage may be a good indicator of the overall health of a hive," Perry added. "Our work sheds light on the reasons behind colony collapse and could help in the search for ways of preventing colony collapse," Perry added.
The new study was published this week in the journal PNAS.