Bee Virus Spreading to Wild Bumblebees With Fatal Results

Friday, 21 Feb 2014 07:08 AM

By Michael Mullins

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The bee virus is spreading from honeybees to their wild cousin bumblebees at an alarming rate, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The study, which was conducted in the United Kingdom and followed nearly 750 bees at 26 sites, found that a major source for the bumblebee decline in recent years stemmed from "the spillover of parasites and pathogens and disease" from managed honeybee hives, the Associated Press reported.

Since 2006, honey bee populations have been falling rapidly around the world fuelled by a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. The cause of the condition remains unclear; however, scientists believe a likely cause is the Varroa destructor mite that spreads viruses while feeding on hemolymph, or bee's blood.

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"There is some reason for concern here," study coauthor Matthias Fuerst of the Royal Holloway University of London told the Agence France-Presse.

"Honeybees and bumblebees have very similar levels of those pathogens at the same site, so that means there is some connection between honeybees and bumblebees at those sites that is highly indicative of a spillover," Fuerst explained.

According to Fuerst, the same pathogen responsible for killing off honeybees when found on a bumblebee resulted in a 25 to 33 percent reduction of their typical 21-day lifespan.

Of the honeybees tested at the study's 26 sites, 88 percent were found to be infected with the pathogens, according to researchers, who warned however that the numbers could actually be significantly higher.

"We’re only catching individuals that are alive and healthy and able to go out and forage," principal author Mark J.F. Brown told the Los Angeles Times. "It’s likely that the prevalence numbers that we report are lower than they actually are."

Much like honeybees, bumblebees play a vital role in pollinizing flowers and food around the world, particularly tomatoes, according to experts.

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"Wild bees are contributing a substantial and significant fraction of the pollination services that we require," Brown added. "Honeybees are absolutely important, but so are wild bees."

Aside from the Varroa destructor mite and the virus it spreads, other possible causes for the massive bee die-offs is the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that have been shown to cause seizure-like deaths in European honeybees.

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