As we near the end of winter and welcome in the spring we expect the return of all types of insects, including the bumble bee. Although there have been many reports in previous years noting that bee populations in general have been declining, this year there is an additional threat that could reduce populations further. In the past, decline has been mainly explained by changes to global climate and loss of the green spaces in which these very important organisms thrive.
This new threat comes in the form of diseases. Thought to be initially harboured by honey bees, it has been discovered that the diseases have now spread to wild bumble bees. A team of researchers, who have recently published their work in the journal Nature, have identified a number of infectious pathogens that spread between the two species. One of these pathogens, DWV or the Deformed Wing Virus, shortens the life spans of the bees, affecting whole colonies. Another is a fungus which can also be transferred between species with a detrimental effect to numbers.
Bees are a vital part of crop production, pollenating three quarters of the world’s food crops, while also playing an important role in pest control. Many may think that they have a very small role to play in the world but it is becoming evident that they are important to the ecology and wellbeing of many environments. The British Bee Keeping Association is advising that bee keepers take measures to reduce disease in domestic hives, and help prevent the spread of these infections. It is also calling for research into new treatments and procedures for effective infection control.