Researchers have observed a massive drop in global honeybee populations, and they think they know what to blame.
Honeybees have been dying off around the world at an alarming rate, and beekeepers are scrambling to find a way to put a stop to it. According to a report from Science Recorder, however, a new study suggests that saving the honeybees may go against our very nature; scientists say that in addition to a deadly virus, humans are to blame for the demise of honeybees around the globe.
A disease called deformed wing virus, or DWV, has resulted in the deaths of millions of honeybees over the last couple of decades. DWV is different than most viruses affecting hives, too – it was spread around the world by humans.
Scientists have shown that the vector of the disease, Varroa mites, has hitchhiked on the backs of European honeybees as they were shipped all around the world. Neither the virus nor the might is particularly harmful to the honeybees on their own, but when placed in cramped quarters (such as a shipping container), the can wreak havoc on the honeybees’ health.
The mite likes to feed on the larvae of honeybees, which makes populations more susceptible to the effects of the virus. Researchers traced the spread of the Varroa mite around the world, and found traces of its DNA in 17 different countries.
They found that DWV had traveled from Europe to North America, Australia and New Zealand. It would be nearly physically impossible for Varroa mites to traverse both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans to reach new continents, so the blame is pointed squarely at humans.
European honeybees were shipped around the globe starting in the mid-twentieth century. The spread of European honeybees has massively benefited agriculture around the world, but has also precipitated some pretty serious ecological issues.
The honeybee population in the U.S., for example, dropped almost 60 percent between 1947 and 2005. “Colony collapse disorder,” a disease that results in the deaths of massive numbers of bees, was caused by a number of different factors, one of which was deformed winged virus.
A press release from the University of Exeter describing the details of the study can be found here.