Wildlife & Biodiversity

Not only honey bees, native bees may also be facing a ‘pandemic’: Scientists

The extent of pathogen impact on solitary bees is unknown, but it is crucial as they comprise majority of the approximately 20,000 bee species on the planet

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 10 July 2020

A fungal pathogen has been infecting bees around the world for at least two decades. And scientists are calling it a pandemic.

The unicellular pathogen Nosema causes the most common and widespread disease in adult honey bees. It has been exclusively documented in European honeybee, though it is also found in bees across Europe, Canada and Kenya. The pathogen is impacting the native, solitary bees, the extent of which is unknown, according to University of Colorado Boulder researchers. 

The results were published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

The information is crucial as solitary bees comprise a majority of the approximately 20,000 bee species on the planet.

“More work needs to be done to understand Nosema infections in native bee species and the potential consequences to native ecosystems, if native bees suffer a similar fate as honeybees when infected,” said Arthur Grupe, lead author and researcher in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The different strains of Nosema — Nosema apis, Nosema ceranae, Nosema bombiare the most common strains to cause infections in bees. Nosema ceranae causes year-round infections in hives; so far, only Nosema bombi, which infects bumblebees, has been documented in Colorado.

While N apis was the only known unicellular honey bee pathogen until 1996, when the second species, N ceranae, was identified from the Asian honey bee.

Reserachers have underlined the need to better understand how these Nosema strains travel through the globe and affect native, solitary bees.

The strains could contribute to colony collapse, a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a honey bee colony disappear, leaving behind a queen, food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees.

Other concerns

The pandemic has ecologists worried over the fate of not only bees, but plants as well.

If a species of bees is wiped out, the plant exclusively dependant on it for pollination may die away too.  Another major concern is that of pathogen spillover, which may happen when infected bees from commercial hives leave the fungus on flowers and infect the native bees. 

But only a little is known about what is happening, say researchers.  

“That's one of the reasons why we think it's so important for people to start doing this kind of surveillance work and sampling more native bees,” University of Colarado Boulder quoted co-author Alisha Quandt as saying.  

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