Humans are to blame for the mass wipe-out of honeybees, University of Exeter-led research has discovered.
Collaborating with UC Berkeley, University of Exeter researchers found that deformed wing virus (DWV) which is responsible for decimating bee populations worldwide, was found to be spread by the trade of bee colonies.
The virus is most commonly associated with Varroa mites, which are harmless parasites that feed on the bodily fluids of the host insects. However, mites that carry the virus can infect honey bees and actually pose a serious threat. If infected during the larval stage of development, bees will often have visibly deformed wings when fully matured. Although previously thought that the infectious agent had natural roots, this new research shows the cause to be “largely manmade”.
According to Dr Lena Wilfret from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, “if the spread was naturally occurring, we would expect to see transmission between countries that are close to each other, but we found that, for example, the New Zealand virus population originated in Europe”.
The mass global trade of bees that is commonplace today could therefore prove disastrous not only for the delicate ecosystems of the world, but also for global quality of life.
Professor Roger Butlin, leading figure in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Sheffield, commented: “This study shows the risks of moving animals and plants around the world. The consequences can be devastating, both for domestic animals and for wildlife.”