mushrooms in grass-cc-ginko

A mushroom farmer and a scientist have created a beehive containing fungi that might just be the key to saving the imperiled honey bee.

Farmer Paul Stamets started thinking there might be a possible relationship between his crop of mushrooms and bee health after he watched the insects in his garden eating the root-like filaments called mycelium.

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With bee populations collapsing since the 1980s and threatening world food supplies, scientists are groping for answers. At least 61 culprits–from viruses to pesticides–are to blame, but one of the biggest threats is a mite that exploded on the scene in 1987.

The lifespan of the varroa destructor mite is so short-lived, it has been able to evolve and develop resistance to pesticides that have been previously able to control it.

Stamets launched a research project — backed by the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department — that eventually allowed him to show that compounds in certain mushrooms can boost a bee’s immune system.

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Their research so far has shown that mushrooms on certain trees frequented by bees in the Pacific Northwest actually can protect them from viruses. The mushroom nutrients also help bees break down harmful pesticides and chemicals. His next step was to go after the mites.

Stamets teamed up with Washington State University entomologist — and beekeeper — Steve Sheppard, and the two have been exploring the idea that mushrooms might be able to protect bees from the little parasites.

After identifying a species of mushroom — Metarhizium anisopliae — that appears to kill the varroa mites without hurting the bees, they are now testing beehives that contain the mushrooms that would create natural protection for colonies.beehive by Paul-Stamets_by-Sylvia-Kantor

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Stamets and Sheppard are dropping chunks of cardboard dusted with finely ground powder from the mushroom into standard bee boxes. As the bees rip out the clutter to better organize their hives, they cover themselves in the potentially mite-killing compounds.

They are working with one of Washington state’s largest beekeeping operations to see if their plan to build beehives from mushrooms will protect the vital pollinators.

“Nature leads us to solutions if we connect the dots, are open minded and think creatively,” Stamets told Crosscut. “We need to be innovative to create solutions that help tilt the balance to help bees, and ultimately us.

(WATCH the video below from EarthFixMedia) — Photo (top): ginko, CC

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