Several deadly bumblebee diseases have been linked to honeybees. The population of both bees has significantly declined throughout Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. The disturbing trend may be caused by pathogens, parasites, and diseases, which affect both kinds of bees.
A recent study, conducted by the University of London, suggests bumblebees may contract diseases when they land on flowers contaminated by infected honeybees. Mark Brown, who participated in the research, said he and his colleagues observed flowers are 26 sites throughout the United Kingdom.
The two diseases observed during the study were deformed wing virus and Nosema ceranae, which is a fungus. Historically, both diseases were only observed in honeybees.
The researchers concluded that bumblebees actually contracted the diseases from the flowers’ surface. The research suggests the flowers were contaminated by infected honeybees.
As reported by The Guardian, bumblebee diseases have also been linked to honeybee hives, where bumblebees occasionally collect nectar.
The researchers determined that the diseases are far more devastating for bumblebees. A diseased bumblebee’s life expectancy is reduced by nearly one-third. The loss of life can devastate a hive.
The loss is less severe for honeybees, which have tens of thousands of workers in each hive. In comparison, Bumblebees have fewer than 1,000.
Bumblebee disease is not only devastating for the bees. In the United States alone, bumblebees provide flower pollination that is estimated to be worth more than $3 billion.
In addition to disease, population decline has been attributed to loss of habitat. As fields of flowers are destroyed, the bees are forced to look elsewhere for nectar. Decline is a specific concern, as several species are in danger of extinction.
Bombus cullumanus, also called Cullem’s bumblebee, was previously prominent in the United Kingdom. However, within the last decade, the species declared extinct.
As reported by BBC, the spread of disease among bees may be preventable. British Beekeepers Association President Dr. David Aston said the responsibility lies with beekeepers:
“By employing good husbandry practices, beekeepers can take steps to reduce the impact of pests and diseases on honeybee colonies using biotechnical controls… such as apiary hygiene, regular brood comb changes, ensuring the colonies are strong and well-nourished.”
Brown and his colleagues are also concerned that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides has contributed to the population decline. At least one study suggests the pesticides are responsible for weakening honeybees’ immune systems.
Brown suggests that bumblebee disease may be increasingly devastating, as their immune systems could be compromised as well. Although the pesticides are currently banned, the manufacturers are contesting the decision.
[Image via Shutterstock]