Bee Pandemic: Honey, Please Focus On That

by Meenal Bhatia

Bee Pandemic: Honey, Please Focus On That

July 25, 2020

In the year of one of humanity's worst pandemics, there is another plague that is haunting an entire different species- bees. The bees are witnessing a 'Bee Pandemic'.

As human civilization remains jolted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the bee species witness the spread of a decimating disease of their own. As they are usually referred to, the ‘Honey creators,’ or bees, are threatened by a massive bee pandemic.

From the University of Colorado, Boulder, researchers have projected a heavy shadow of concern looming over honeybees. It has almost exclusively been observed in the European honeybee, which is a commercially recognized pollinator.

Bee Colonies in the World

What's causing the Bee Pandemic?

The intense danger to the bee habitat thorugh a bee pandemic is caused by a unicellular pathogen called Nosema, and the potential dread it can cause is yet unknown. Nosema is a fungus that impacts the native, solitary bees, which comprise a majority of the approximately 20,000 bee species discovered on the planet.

Bee Pandemic is Killing Bees

Bee Pandemic- Honey bees are struggling for their existence

Researchers have identified Nosema to potentially contribute to bee colonies’ collapse, hence the bee pandemic, which occurs when many worker bees in a honey bee colony vanish, leaving behind a queen and a few nurse bees that care for the remaining immature bees.

The disease has been spreading across the globe for over two decades now. It’s been well documented in Europe, Canada, and Kenya.

A parasitic mite, aptly named Varroa destructor, initially infested only colonies of Asian honey bees, Apis cerana, but jumped to infect Western honey bees, Apis mellifera, the species that dominates the modern commercial pollination around the world.

Nonetheless, it has almost exclusively been observed in the European honeybee, a commercially recognized pollinator.

More needs to be done to get an understanding of Nosema- inflicted infections in native bee species and the critical consequences to native ecosystems if native bees suffer a similar fate as honeybees when infected.

- Arthur Grupe II, Ecology Researcher

Honeybees Matter and Bee Pandemic is Killing them

The bee pandemic has entomologists worried over the fate of not just bees but also plants. If certain bee species are wiped out, then the plant species which are exclusively dependent on them for pollination may even die out.

Another major problem is pathogen spillover, which may happen when diseased bees from commercial hives leave the fungus on flowers and infect the native bees.

There is still plenty that scientists hope to figure out about Nosema and its biological and ecological effects, but what’s definite is that immediate surveillance action needs to be taken.

photo 1590334280495 2bf3f02ac46d
A struggling bee population

One out of every three bites of the food we eat is due to a pollinator.

- Arthur Grupe II, Department of Ecology, University of Colorado

Consequences of the Bee Pandemic

Bee populations and specifically hives worldwide have been retreating in the past twenty years due to colony collapse disorder. While there is no particular reason behind this phenomenon, bees and their colonies’ welfare are affected by what we know as the 4 P‘s: Pests, Pathogens, Poor nutrition, and Pesticides

Without knowing how Nosema affects native, solitary bees, a whole bee pandemic and its ecological consequences could go unnoticed.

A globalized economy and our methodical destruction of the natural world create the perfect circumstances for pathogens and parasites to ascertain novel hosts and quickly spread overseas.

We must become better equipped for developing diseases to be a mainstay risk in the modern world. They are a persistent threat to our health, our livestock, and that of the wildlife that may inadvertently catch the spillover.

As we have tragically beheld with COVID-19, emerging diseases are killing us, and they’re killing our bees, too.



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