Honeybees are killing off wild bumblebee species which are important for large crop pollination

We’ve heard stories over the last few years about the possible demise of the honeybee population and the dire impact it would have on our food supply chain.

But according to Samantha Alger, who is a University of Vermont grad student and lead author of a new paper published in PLOS One, the honeybees we have been so worried about are indirectly killing off native bumblebees.

While honeybees pollinate flowers and fruit bearing plants, shrubs and trees, bumblebees pollinate large crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash, and the following berries: cane-, straw-, blue- and cranberries; and many other crops in need of primary or supplemental pollinators, according to Buglogical Control Systems.

Bumble bees are special in that they have a unique way of shaking pollen out of tomato and squash flowers for example in a way that improves yields. 

And while honeybees have the support of an industry that regularly breeds new hives and conducts research for solutions to propagating and protecting the honeybees, wild bees like the honeybees do not.

Native bumblebees are getting killed off by the transference of a bee virus from an infected honeybee which leaves the virus on the flowers. The virus is passed from one honeybee to another through the bloodsucking parasite known as Varroa destructor. This is one way that the honeybee population is dwindling, but stress from being transported from one end of the country to another on trucks as well as absorbing pesticides are also other ways affecting the bee population. 

While bumblebees don’t have to worry about transport stress they are affected by the virus and pesticides.

Alger’s research team thought that finding the viruses would be like ‘finding a needle in a haystack’ but during their research they found viruses in 19% of flowers that were near an apiary. 

Apiaries are places where hives of honeybees are kept whether it be in rural or urban locations and come in many different sizes which all depends on the honeybee operation. Also, hives owned by hobbyists or those maintained for commercial or even educational purposes are referred to as an apiary.

Alger’s research team says that wild bees such as the bumblebee are important pollinators of our food crops and the new evidence that they are being killed off by honeybee viruses only emphasizes the need to cure the honeybees to protect the wild bees.