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New Threat to Wild Pollinators

Bee Diseases by Parcel Post

Feb 23, 2016
New threat to Wild Pollinators: Bee Diseases by Parcel Post

New threat to Wild Pollinators: Bee Diseases by Parcel Post

To compensate for the decline of wild bees, managed honey bee and bumblebee colonies are frequently shipped in from afar to provide pollination services to crops. Hundreds of thousands of hives are being moved around the globe every year for that purpose. This is bad news for wild bees, because the globalized bee trade also helps to move diseases and parasites around the world, reducing the number of wild bees even further. This is the alarming result of a new study by a team of entomologists form California and the UK. The study is based on a large body of recent research on wild bees from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Lead author Peter Graystock from the University of California warns of the consequences for both agriculture and consumers: “Loss of wild pollinators will ultimately either reduce crop yields or increase the reliance on and cost of shipping in more managed bees. This increased cost will cascade down to consumers, raising the price of food we put on our tables."
What is more, while the production of managed bees can be artificially increased to compensate for this loss, wild bee populations have to naturally bounce back, which may not be possible for many – at least not if lessons fail to be learned, suggests Graystock. That is why it becomes more important to embrace mitigating measures as bumblebees and other managed pollinators are increasingly cultivated.

The authors suggest a number of ways to reduce the harm managed bees cause to wild bees:

  • Strict, unified international regulations to ensure that bee movements do not introduce exotic parasites to new countries.
  • Improved screening for a wider range of parasites
  • Improved husbandry to eliminate parasites within rearing facilities.
  • Improved barrier control on farm glasshouses and poly tunnels to avoid mixing between managed and wild bees.
  • Increased hedgerows and wild flower field margins to enhance wild pollination services and reduce reliance on managed bees
  • Increased conservation efforts to help small/fragmented wild bee populations that are under increased stress.

While this will undoubtedly impose short-term monetary costs, it will help to protect wild bees and the valuable pollination services they provide in the long term.

The study titled “Do managed bees drive parasite spread and emergence in wild bees?” by Peter Grastock et al., was published in the online magazine science direct.

It was also picked up by the science news service Phys.Org and subsequently by other media, including Science News online and the News Blog nzhealth.com.

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