Bumblebee Mystery: What Is Killing the Bees?

bumblebeeWhat is killing bees is a real bumblebee mystery. Something is killing off bees, both the wild bumblebee and its domesticated cousin the honeybee. Scientists believe they have found the reason why. Two diseases that are common in domestic honeybees are being found in the wild bumblebee population. These infections may explain why there has been a recent decline in the global bee population. One of the diseases is the deformed wing virus (DWV). The other disease is a fungal parasite, Nosema Ceranae, a microspore, which was less prevalent according to the researchers.

A study conducted by Mark J.F. Brown of Royal Holloway University at London, found that the Varroa destructor mite that infects honeybees could be the main culprit of the virus. They looked at 26 different sites across England and found that one in five bees suffered from the DWV. The virus grounds the insect and eventually kills it.

Researchers further found that 88 percent of the domestic honeybee population actively carries the virus and that the virus replicates. They believe that foraging from the same flowers is what caused the bumblebees to get infected; another way that the infection may be passed along is when the bumblebee raids the competitor’s hives. Brown stated that the bee population has been declining in North and South America, Europe, as well as Asia.

One reason that researchers are concerned about the decline in the bee population has to do with the fact that bees commercially pollinate about 90 percent of crops throughout the world. A service that is valued at $14 billion annually. While the honeybee population is important, Brown cautions that the bumblebee population is just as important. He stated that the wild bee population is responsible for a significant fraction of the pollination that takes place. The mystery of what is killing off the bumblebee has been around for the last few decades with major declines in the insect population leaving researchers baffled about what is happening to the bees.

The study suggested that at least a third of the honeybee population was infected with the virus, and a full 11 percent of bumblebees are also infected. Other studies suggest that it is not just the virus that the bees are spreading that is causing the widespread disappearance. A blight on the soy bean crop is also believed to have jumped from soy beans into bees in the form of a virus that is adding to the decline.

Another study last month suggested that pesticides which are widely used in the United States could be to blame for some of the reduction in the bee population. At least 35 pesticides are linked to compromised immune systems that are causing the bees to be more susceptible to certain types of diseases. In the United Kingdom destruction of the bees’ natural habitat is also playing a pivotal role in the decreasing number of bees. Researchers are anxious to solve the mystery behind what is killing the bees, not just for the bumblebee population, but also because of the long-term ecological effects of these insects becoming extinct.

By Rachel Woodruff

BBC News
Laboratory Equipment

Science Now

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