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Global Trade Spurs Decline In Honeybee Populations: What Humans Can Do To Save These Insect Pollinators

A dreadful virus is currently destroying bee populations all over the world, and its spread is being blamed on the transport and trade of bees for crop pollination.

Millions of bees are being wiped out by the deformed wing virus, a devastating disease carried by honeybees' worst enemy - the Varroa destructor mite.

In a new study, scientists have discovered that the Apis mellifera, a European honeybee, is the source of the terrible bee disease. How so? The global trade of bee population plays a crucial role in the disease's transmittance.

Dr. Lena Bayer-Wilfert, the study's lead author, said bees are traded as a commodity to improve stock quality or start new bee colonies.

"Whole hives have also been moved as part of a kind of developmental aid - this is actually a great thing, but historically has contributed to the rapid spread of Varroa," explained Bayer-Wilfert.

What Humans Can Do To Save the Bees

Experts have been looking for effective ways to save the declining population of these insect pollinators.

In May last year, the White House unveiled its plans to reverse the trend of dying bee populations.

As part of their initiative, the White House will seek to increase the size of pollinator inhabitants, establish seed banks for bee-friendly plants, and encourage the training of bee scientists.

In a letter, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency said that expanding the conversation about the condition of bee populations through education and outreach contribute to reversing pollinator declines.

Aside from that, their strategy will involve building public and private partnerships in order to engage all sectors of society. Working together will be essential in achieving the goal.

There's good news, too. A study published in October last year found that a key ingredient found in beer can save the population of bees. The ingredient has the ability to kill Varroa destructors.

Still, Bayer-Wilfert said eliminating Varroa or introducing resistant honeybees is impossible to do at such a short duration, but the control of these mites and good beekeeping practices can limit its negative effects. She also suggested that international regulations on honeybee movements should be adhered to.

A Global Collapse

Researchers have linked the Varroa destructor mite to a phenomenon called "colony collapse disorder," in which a bee colony mysteriously dies off.

According to scientists, the Apis mellifera on its own does not threaten the bee population, but when the Varroa destructor mite strikes and eats the bee larvae, the virus hits the bee and ends its life.

If the virus were occurring naturally, it would have taken place between countries with close geographical proximity. The deformed wing virus, however, was located in New Zealand.

Apparently, the virus was transmitted through the international shipment of the Apis mellifera from Europe to the Pacific country.

"This is the first study to conclude that Europe is the backbone of the global spread of the bee-killing combination of deformed wing virus and Varroa," said Bayer-Wilfert.

The sudden death of millions of bee populations has severe economic and ecological consequences. Plant populations that depend entirely on honeybees to produce fruit generally suffer as a result of the colony collapse disorder.

At the same time, honeybees are extremely important to the pollination of human food crops. According to the White House, more than 90 percent of commercial crops in North America rely on honey bee pollination.

Without these insects, global food production would also crumble.

Photo: Karunakar Rayker | Flickr

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