Sydney NSW, Australia
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Chalkbrood fungal disease on the rise in Australian beehives — and poor nutrition could be to blame

By Emma Nobel and Jonathan Ridnell

Key points:Beehives around Australia are succumbing to the deadly chalkbrood disease at a faster rate than their overseas counterparts, despite having better hygiene practices.
  • Chalkbrood is a fast-acting, spore-forming fungus which affects developing baby bees, so small that they can travel on a single bee hair
  • Ms Gerdt's research found some bees are more innately resistant to some strains of chalkbrood than others
  • Hygienically-clean hives have been found to not necessarily mean a hive free of chalkbrood

La Trobe University doctoral student and fourth-generation beekeeper Jody Gerdts has researched why Australian honeybees are so susceptible to the disease.

Chalkbrood disease is a fast-acting, spore-forming fungus which, after being ingested by bee larvae, takes just days to puncture the larvae skin and form a fungal mycelia on the outside of the baby bee.

"It affects the developing stage of the bee, so although it doesn't kill the whole hive, it can affect the number of bees that can go out and forage, bring home honey and help out with pollination," Ms Gerdts said.

The spores that infect the bee larvae are so small that they can travel on a single bee hair.

"It can form new spores and then become more contagious in the hive," she said.

With the help of beekeepers from all over the eastern states of Australia, Ms Gredts looked at the impact of hygiene, bee genetics and environment on the prevalence of chalkbrood, and has found there is a relationship between poor quality pollen and its prevalence in Australian honeybee hives.

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