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New study shows how bumblebees can be infected by honeybee diseases

A new study published in the Nature journal has shown that bumblebees are being infected by pathogens that are normally associated with honeybees.

The work, carried out by Matthias Furst, Mark Brown and colleagues, looked at bumblebees through Great Britain and the Isle of Man. They found that 11% of bumblebees sampled tested positive for Deformed Wing Virus (DWV). DWV reduces the life expectancy of infected bees, and can produce bees that have shrivelled wings (pictured right).

The study also looked at another pathogen called Nosema ceranae. This is a microsporidian - a kind of fungus - that has been implicated in the decline of honeybees. It also does not normally occur in bumblebees, and work is under way to understand how they become infected with it.

The study found clear links between the strains of the pathogens present in bumblebees and honeybees in some areas, indicating that the disease in bumblebees most likely comes from honeybees. However, more work is needed to fully determine the role that wild pollinators have in transmitting the pathogens among themselves.

The study recommends that tighter controls of imports of honeybees and more stringent hygiene checks are put in place. Beekeepers are also asked to control the diseases in their colonies - both for their own benefit, and that of the wider pollinator community. The British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) advocates measures to contol diseases in honeybee hives, and their response to this research can be read by clicking here.

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