Honey bee crisis could spread to wild colonies

Macro shot of bees swarming on a honeycomb

The bee crisis runs the risk of spreading, it seems, with colonies of wild bees at risk from the same virus that is causing colonies in managed populations of bees to collapse.

A recent report of a study led by evolutionary geneticist Lena Wilfert of the University of Exeter calls for urgent action to stop diseases carried by commercial bees spreading to the wild.

“The diseases carried by commercial species affect a wide range of wild pollinators but their spread can be avoided by improved monitoring and management practices,” Wilfert told the BBC.

“Commercial honey beekeepers have a responsibility to protect ecologically and economically important wild pollinator communities from disease.”

Colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which all the adult worker bees disappear from a hive, has plagued honey bee populations in Europe and the US, threatening to disrupt vital pollination of fruit and vegetables humans rely on.

The reasons for the syndrome are not entirely clear but are thought to include the use of pesticides, infections of mites such as Varroa and Acarapis, loss of habitat or a combination of these factors.

Wilfert’s report focuses on infections.

Pathogens have emerged as a significant threat to the apicultural industry in recent years, with dramatic declines seen in populations of A. mellifera (the western honey bee). While viral infections have been invoked as a potential cause of colony collapse syndrome, the main culprit in pathogen-related honeybee colony losses is infestation by the invasive mite Varroa destructor. This ectoparasite facilitates the spread of viral diseases and may increase their virulence … In particular, one of these viruses (deformed wing virus, DWV) has recently been identified as an emerging disease in pollinators, with its prevalence in honeybees linked to its prevalence in wild bumblebees… Although virological research has focused on honeybees, recent data suggest that many of the 24 viruses isolated from honeybees so far … have a broad host range, infecting some bumblebee, solitary bee, wasp, ant and hoverfly species. via