A new study, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology this week, has discovered a range of viruses in wild bumblebees which were previously thought to be restricted to honeybees.
Researchers found that diseases such as black queen cell virus, deformed wing virus, acute bee paralysis virus, slow bee paralysis virus and sacbrood virus, which were originally thought to only affect honeybees, and incidentally are all named after their effects in honeybees, also occur in wild bumblebees.
Some disease levels were much higher in bumblebees, which may suggest that those viruses may even rely on bumblebees to spread amongst other hosts. One of the researchers, Professor Mark Brown, from the School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London, said: “Our results confirm a recent review of potential threats to pollinators, indicating that so-called honey bee viruses are widespread in wild bees. It is imperative that we take the next step and identify how these viruses are transmitted among honeybees and wild bees, so that we can manage both to reduce their risk of disease.”
Previous research had highlighted that bumblebees can suffer from deformed wing virus, a notorious honeybee infliction – however these new findings reveal that virus spill-over between the species is much worse than first thought. It is thought one of the main methods of transfer is via contact with flowers which have been previously visited by disease carrying bees – although the researchers admit more work needs to be done to find out exactly how these viruses spread.
Chief Executive Officer of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Lucy Rothstein, supported the new research, saying, “We welcome the research carried out by Professor Mark Brown and his team at Royal Holloway, University of London. Bumblebees are under threat from so many different factors – diseases in particular. Building our understanding about these diseases will play a fundamental role in helping us to find solutions to prevent further declines of these endearing and iconic insects. Bumblebees are vital for our food security and for creating beautiful landscapes for us to enjoy – which is why we have a vested interest in safeguarding their future and supporting research, and why our work creating and restoring bumblebee friendly habitat is more important than ever”.
Notes to Eds:
Interviews and bumblebee photos are available upon request.
• The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was established in 2006 to address the worrying decline of the UK’s bumblebees.
• During the last 70 years we have lost over 97% of flower rich meadows in the UK as a result of intensive agriculture and urban development which has left bumblebees with little to feed on.
• Bumblebees are crucial to our food security and vital pollinators of everyday essentials such as apples, beans, tomatoes and peas.
• Our vision is to ensure that our communities and countryside will be rich in bumblebees and colourful wildflowers, supporting a diversity of wildlife and habitats for everyone to enjoy.
• The Bumblebee Conservation Trust pledge to support the conservation of all bumblebees, rare or abundant and to raise awareness and increase understanding about their social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits.