A parasitic mite has helped a virus wipe out billions of honeybees throughout the globe, say scientists.
A team studying honeybees in Hawaii found that the Varroa mite helped spread a particularly nasty strain of a disease called deformed wing virus.
The mites act as tiny incubators of one deadly form of the disease, and inject it directly into the bees’ blood.
This has led to “one of the most widely-distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet”.
The findings are reported in the journal Science.
The team, led by Dr Stephen Martin from the University of Sheffield, studied the honeybees in Hawaii, where Varroa was accidentally brought from California just five years ago.
Crucially some Hawaiian islands have honeybee colonies that are still Varroa-free.
This provided the team with a unique natural laboratory; they could compare recently-infected colonies with those free from the parasite, and paint a biological picture of exactly how Varroa affected the bees.
The team spent two years monitoring colonies – screening Varroa-infected and uninfected bees to see what viruses lived in their bodies.
Dr Martin explained to BBC Nature that most viruses were not normally harmful to the bees, but the mite “selected” one lethal strain of one specific virus.
“In an infected bee there can be more viral particles than there are people on the planet,” Dr Martin explained.
“There’s a vast diversity of viral strains within a bee, and most of them are adapted to exist in their own little bit of the insect; they get on quite happily.”
But the mite, he explained, “shifts something”.
OTTAWA – FOLLOWING a massive bee die-off in parts of the world, two Canadian universities on Wednesday launched an effort to breed honey bees resistant to pests and diseases.
Led by the universities of Guelph and Manitoba, the programme will try to breed a better bee through genetic selection.
It will also screen new products for pest and disease control, and try to come up with new ways of managing pollination colonies that face risks that include parasites, bacterial infections and pesticides resulting from the impact of human activities on the environment.
Ottawa is providing US$244,000 (S$300,748) to the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association to participate in the project. The goal is to ‘help beekeepers secure sustainable honey harvests and provide essential pollination services to the fruit and vegetable industry’, the government said in a statement.
Honey bee colony declines in recent years have reached 10 to 30 per cent in Europe, 30 per cent in the United States, and up to 85 per cent in Middle East, according to a United Nations report on the issue released earlier this year.
Honey bees are critical to global agriculture. They pollinate more than 100 different crops, representing up to US$83 billion in crop value world wide each year and roughly one-third of the human diet. — AFP
MIKE BARRETT does not have much of a yard at his two-story row house in Astoria, Queens. But that fact has not kept him from his new hobby of beekeeping — he put the hive on his roof. When it was harvest time this fall, he just tied ropes around each of the two honey-filled boxes in the hive, and lowered them to the ground.
Eventually, Mr. Barrett loaded the boxes into his car, took off his white beekeeper suit and set off for a commercial kitchen in Brooklyn. There, along with other members of the New York City beekeeping club, he extracted his honey, eventually lugging home 40 pounds of the stuff.
He was happy with his successful harvest, but he also reaped something he did not expect. “I was surprised how much I really care about the bees,” said Mr. Barrett, 49, a systems administrator for New York University, in reflecting on his inaugural season as a beekeeper. “You start to think about the ways to make their lives better.”
Until last spring, Mr. Barrett would have been breaking the law and risking a $2,000 fine for engaging in his sticky new hobby. But in March, New York City made beekeeping legal, and in so doing it joined a long list of other municipalities, from Denver to Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Salt Lake City, that have also lifted beekeeping bans in the last two years.
Posted on October 13, 2009.
Sydney Ross Singer
In case you haven’t heard the buzz, the honey bee in Hawaii is gravely threatened by a newly introduced parasite, the varroa mite, which can wipe out our bee population within a few years, and is spreading across the state.
The question is, should we save the honey bees, or is the mite doing us a favor?
If you ask residents, farmers, and beekeepers, the honey bee is a blessing in Hawaii. They provide delicious honey, they help pollinate all sorts of fruit trees and crops, and they are interesting creatures to raise as a hobby. For most people, our islands would surely be less sweet without honey bees.
On the other hand, if you ask some conservationists who only value “native” species and wish to eradicate introduced ones, the honey bee is an invasive species curse in Hawaii. They compete with native pollinators, and they pollinate alien plant species that are encroaching on native forests. For these people, conservation would best be served by the eradication of the honey bee.
Unfortunately, the Hawaii government holds both of these opinions. And this spells doom for the honey bee.