Are Researchers Blaming Beekeepers for New Diseases in the Wild?
There are diseases that show up in beekeeper hives – they are common among managed colonies.
But now they are showing up widely in in the UK’s wild bumblebee population, according to new research published in Nature.
Are they spreading from sickened honeybees or is something else at play?
Are scientists really using mass funding for discovering – or for covering?
Dr Matthias Fürst and Professor Mark Brown from Royal Holloway University of London are the lead authors that detected a disease gone wild. Dr Fürst, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway said:
Wild and managed bees are in decline at national and global scales. Given their central role in pollinating wildflowers and crops, it is essential that we understand what lies behind these declines. Our results suggest that emerging diseases, spread from managed bees, may be an important cause of wild bee decline.
Professor Brown added:
We have known for a long time that parasites are behind declines in honeybees. What our data show is that these same pathogens are circulating widely across our wild and managed pollinators. Infected honeybees can leave traces of disease, like a fungal spore or virus particle, on the flowers that they visit and these may then infect wild bees.
First, they assessed common honeybee diseases to determine if they could pass from honeybees to bumblebees. They found that deformed wing virus (DWV) and the fungal parasite Nosema ceranae – both of which negatively impacts honeybees – can infect worker bumblebees and, in the case of DWV, reduce their lifespan.
Honeybees and bumblebees were then collected from 26 sites across the UK and screened for the presence of the parasites. Both disease states were considered widespread in bumblebees and honeybees across the UK.
Dr Fürst went on:
One of the novel aspects of our study is that we show that deformed wing virus, which is one of the main causes of honeybee deaths worldwide, is not only broadly present in bumblebees, but is actually replicating inside them. This means that it is acting as a real disease; they are not just carriers.
Three factors, they say, suggest that honeybees are spreading the parasites into wild bumblebees: honeybees have higher background levels of the virus and the fungus than bumblebees; bumblebee infection is predicted by patterns of honeybee infection; and honeybees and bumblebees at the same sites share genetic strains of DWV.
They claim this research goes beyond previous anecdotal reports of honeybee parasites showing up in other pollinators – but does it really? The results? Urgent need for management recommendations to reduce the threat of emerging diseases in wild and managed bees. They say this is vital information for beekeepers everywhere to ensure honeybee management supports wild bees.
Professor Brown added:
National societies and agencies, both in the UK and globally, currently manage so-called honeybee diseases on the basis that they are a threat only to honeybees. While they are doing great work, our research shows that this premise is not true, and that the picture is much more complex. Policies to manage these diseases need to take into account threats to wild pollinators and be designed to reduce the impact of these diseases not just on managed honeybees, but on our wild bumblebees too.
I’ve written about these particular studies before – they are apart of a group of studies out of the £10 million ‘Insect Pollinators Initiative ($13.5 million USD), joint-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust. It is managed under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership.
Biotechnology…living with environmental change… That is something to ponder. Please see this article where I discuss the blame mitigation and the cycle of corporate chemical swapping – i.e. chemical biocides get swapped for a new one and lucrative research continues and refuses to do anything but have different chemicals approved. Bees Are Actually Just Stressed?
Please leave your thoughts below and any information you have about the funding sources of these studies.