Wild Bees in Danger of Illness from Honey Bees

Wild bumblebees all over the world are in danger of being infected with illnesses passed from commercial honey bees, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature.


Bumblebees provide much of the world’s pollination, which results in both food and flowers worldwide. Bumblebees are not trucked from farm to farm like their domesticated cousins, the honey bees.


According to one of the study authors Mark Brown, of the University of London, the study found that parasites and pathogens had started to appear in wild bumblebees, where in the past these diseases had only appeared in commercialized honeybees. In addition, the study found declining populations of wild bumblebees all over the world, including in Europe, South America, North America and Asia.


This study reveals what many smaller studies have confirmed in the past, but Brown says that his is the first to examine the trends on such a large scale. The study followed 750 bees at 26 different sites all around Great Britain. The study also looked at bees in a lab setting in order to track how the diseases spread.


Study co-author Matthew Furst, also of the University of London, told the Associated Press that while the study results do not definitively prove that diseases can pass from honeybees to bumblebees, findings certainly indicate that this could be the case. This is due to the fact that the study found that infection rates were higher in honeybees, he said.


Furst said that bumblebees may come in contact with pathogens through flowers. After an infected honeybee has pollinated a flower, a wild bumblebee can visit the same flower and pick up the disease as well as the pollen.


According to the study, bumblebees have been showing a shortened life expectancy. While the average bumblebee lives for about 21 days, the study found that it is becoming more common for them to live around 15 days. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the diseases found in the study included deformed wing virus and the parasite Nocema ciranae, which has been linked to colony collapse. The study found that about 1 in 5 bumblebees were infected with deformed wing virus, while 88% of honeybees were found to be carrying the virus.


Unrelated studies have shown that bumblebees provide $3 billion worth of pollination to commercial fruit and flower operations in the United States alone, according a report by the Associated Press.


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