Around the world, few people will deny the importance of saving the bees. The humble honeybee is the most important pollinator for agriculture, and responsible for every third mouthful of food we eat. But bees are under threat, and as a result, so are we. Now, humans are in a race against time to stop the decline of honeybee populations. But perhaps the answer lies right beneath our feet - in mushroom mycelium.
How busy are bees, really? Well, without them there would be no strawberries, almonds, pumpkins and watermelons…. Before long, entire species and ecosystems would collapse. And as humans, we’d struggle to feed our growing global population.
It’s clear that the heroic honeybee doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. But as bee populations drastically decline, humans are finally waking up to smell the roses (thanks to cross pollination, of course).
So, let’s make a beeline to the cause behind this global disaster and look at why the answer may lie in the forgotten fungi.
Why Are We Facing A Declining Bee Population?
For over a decade, there has been large scale and unexplained declines in honeybee populations around the world. Beekeepers in the US first noticed their honeybees dying off in 2006, where worker bees would abandon their queens and leave a hive full of honey.
This happened at an alarming rate, affecting 30-90% of all hives!
This occurrence has since been named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – and the cause is still largely a mystery. Although scientists now believe CCD is a result of a number of factors, including:
- Pesticides & chemicals
- Loss of habitat
- Climate change
- Disease & Viruses
Of this list, scientists and beekeepers believe the honeybees biggest threat is the virus-carrying parasite called the Varroa Mite. These wicked mites are tiny red-brown parasites that live and feed on honeybees –which can cause reduced lifespan, colony collapse and eventually death.
The Varroa Mites are also believed to be involved in the increase of many viruses, such as the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) and the Lake Sinai Virus group (LSV). The DWV causes shrivelled wings, reduced life span and immunosuppression.
While the Varroa Mite does not yet occur in Australia, our honeybees are still facing record declines.
Now, we know what you’re thinking, what does all this have to do with mushrooms?
Bees and Mushroom Mycelium – A Groundbreaking New Discovery
So what’s all the buzz about?
If you’re a fungi fanatic, chances are you don’t need another reason to love mushroom mycelium. It’s widely celebrated for its extraordinary health benefits for humans, from supporting brain health to improving immune function.
But hold the phone, what about its impact on honeybees?
The first groundbreaking study began in 2015 from Washington State University. Western Honeybees are present on every continent except Antarctica, and they were first observed foraging on mushroom mycelium, which was what sparked inspiration for the study.
In 2018, the study earned its place in the top 1% of articles ever published in Nature Magazine. In the science world, that’s the crème da la crème.
The study involved bee’s drinking mushroom mycelium from two strains of mushroom: reishi and amadou. It started out as a controlled, caged experiment, where the bees suffering from Deformed Wing Virus and the Lake Sinai Virus were fed a small amount of mycelia extract each day (or as we call it, mushroom juice).
And then, the results shook the science world and beekeepers alike.
There was a 79-fold decrease in Deformed Wing Virus after just 12 days, and a 45,000-fold decrease in Lake Sinai Virus.
Quite frankly, we think these findings are the bee’s knees.
As the excitement buzzed from this initial experiment, the researchers took their findings out into the real world. Here, they continued to see enormous benefits to the Western Honeybee. It's believed that the antiviral properties in mushroom mycelia have the potential to support and strengthen the bee’s immune system.
This could strengthen colonies and give bees a fighting chance in this enormous battle. And with bee’s bringing us one-third of our global food supply – it’s a silver lining for our entire planet.
Mushroom Mycelium – A Fighting Chance For The Honeybee
With the heavy footprint that humans are leaving on our precious planet, this revolutionary study offers a glimmer of hope. After all, saving the bees is a topic that unites humanity. From all walks of life, few people deny their important role in our ecosystem.
But while politics, sport and reality TV dominate our flashing screens – we can’t help but wonder how these astonishing findings slipped through the cracks? Why aren’t they plastered on every street corner?
And as we continue in our fast-paced world, remember that life as we know it today depends on the humble honeybee. And thanks to the immune boosting properties in mushroom mycelium, there just might be a way to save them.
We’ll say it louder for the people at the back: there might be a way to save the bees.
Written by Shane and Ash, the scientists, mushrooms farmers and garden enthusiasts behind Natura Mushrooms.