Wild bee species may be at risk of infection by pathogens emerging from managed honey bee populations. The risk is further enhanced due to the increased use of commercial pollination services, say scientists from the English University of Exeter. And they are intent on finding a solution: “Our study highlights the importance of preventing the release of diseased commercial pollinators into the wild,“ said lead researcher Dr. Lena Wilfert.
Although research on bee viruses has mostly focused on honey bees, studies also suggest many of the viruses isolated so far may also pose a risk to some bumble bee, wasp or solitary bee species. Wilfert’s team took a closer look at data from well-studied honey bee viruses and identified biological and anthropogenic factors influencing infection, spread and impact of diseases. For example, the Varroa mite helps spread viral diseases in commercial honey bee colonies – and this may also increase virus transmission to wild pollinators. One example, the Deformed Wing Virus, has already been found to exist in wild bumble bees. And their social behavior provides perfect conditions for disease transmission both within the colony and between different species.
The researchers conclude: “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,” explained Wilfert. These measures include, among others, routinely screening for pathogens in migratory beehives prior to moving them, specifically before imports or exports. “Commercial honey beekeepers have a responsibility to protect ecologically and economically important wild pollinator communities from disease,” the evolutionary geneticist said.
Wilfert’s team will further strive to close the knowledge gaps on viral diseases in pollinating insects such as transmission routes and spread of infections within bee populations and species. The researchers will also monitor the effectiveness of existing conservation schemes to determine their success in protecting wild pollinator populations.
You can find the press release of Exeter University here.
Read more about the biosciences research of Exeter University.