Honeybees May Be Responsible for Viruses in Wild Pollinators

honeybee flower photo

Photo by jkirkhart35 via Flickr Creative Commons

Keeping honeybees safe from viruses is a top concern among beekeepers. However, they may be the ones spreading diseases to other pollinators. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University in University Park have found eleven species of wild pollinators that are carrying some of the viruses found in honeybees. Because most of the pollinators have never been known to carry honeybee diseases before, it could be that domesticated bees are spreading viruses. Wired writes, "Researchers tested for five viruses in pollinating insects and in their pollen hauls near apiaries in Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois. Israeli acute parasitic virus showed up in wild pollinators near honeybee installations carrying the disease but not near apiaries without the virus.

"In domestic honeybees, such viruses rank as one of the possible contributors to the still-mysterious malady known as colony collapse disorder that abruptly wipes out a hive's workforce, [lead researcher Diana] Cox-Foster says."

It seems to be the pollen itself that spreads the disease -- viruses are transferred to pollen, which is then collected by healthy wild pollinators who then contract the viruses.

From the study's abstract:

These viruses were detected in eleven other non-Apis hymenopteran species, ranging from many solitary bees to bumble bees and wasps. This finding further expands the viral host range and implies a possible deeper impact on the health of our ecosystem. Phylogenetic analyses support that these viruses are disseminating freely among the pollinators via the flower pollen itself.

Now, the researchers are looking into whether or not the viruses are making significant impacts on wild pollinators, asking the disturbing question of if this is the reason native pollinator species are declining across the US. Could it be more than the overuse of pesticides and changing seasonal patterns spelling their demise?

The findings of the research are published in the December 22nd issue of PLoS One.
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Colony Collapse Disorder and the Epic Fight to Save the Bees
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