Mites and poor diet contribute to honeybee decline in Europe

Two timely reports have surfaced this week regarding the decline of honeybee populations in Europe, and France has taken action in an attempt to curb the falling numbers. 

A recent study linked
honeybee health and plant biodiversity

In a study published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, scientists have found that managed honeybee populations across Europe have dropped an average of 20 percent over the last 20 years, with England being hit the hardest at a 54 percent decline.

Simon Potts and colleagues from the University of Reading analyzed several patterns across 18 countries in Europe and found the mite Varroa destructor–a parasite responsible for transmitting infections in honeybee colonies—infested virtually every honeybee colony they examined. In another study, scientists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Avignon reported a possible dietary connection between the strength of the honeybee immune system and plant biodiversity. 

Cedric Alaux, who co-authored the study published in Biology Letters, told BBC News 

We found that bees fed with a mix of five different pollens had higher levels of glucose oxidase compared to bees fed with pollen from one single type of flower, even if that single flower had a higher protein content. 

Bees use glucose oxidase to sterilize colony and brood food in an effort to make the hive resistant to infection. As Alaux told BBC, a more diverse diet, therefore, might help a honeybee colony protect against pathogen invasion.  

These studies emerge amidst France’s recent decision to sow nectar-bearing flowers alongside 250 kilometers (155 miles) of roadway in an effort to boost honeybee populations. If the results from the three-year test are positive, France is prepared to extend the flowers along the country’s 12,000-kilometer (7,500-mile) network of non-toll roads. 

Read more at BBC and the Telegraph.   

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/ / CC BY 2.0

Potts, S., Settele, J., Neumann,, P., Jones, R., Mike A Brown, M., Marris, G., Dean, R., & Roberts, S. (2010). Declines of managed honey bees and beekeepers in Europe Journal of Apicultural Research, 49 (1) DOI: 10.3896/IBRA.1.49.1.02 

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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