Lead author of the study, Peter Graystock of the University of Leeds explains: "We found that commercially-produced bumblebee colonies contained a variety of microbial parasites, which were infectious and harmful not only to other bumblebees, but also to honeybees."
The results suggest current regulations and protocols governing bumblebee imports are not effective. Currently, Natural England licences are only required for the non-native subspecies. Although the licences require colonies to be disease free, colonies arriving in the UK are not screened to ensure compliance and the regulations do not apply to imports of the native subspecies.
The study argues that producers need to improve disease screening and develop a parasite-free diet for their bees, while regulatory authorities need to strengthen measures to prevent importation of parasite-carrying bumblebee colonies, including checking bees on arrival in the UK and extending regulations to cover imported colonies of the native subspecies.
As well as increasing the prevalence of parasites in wild bumblebees and managed honeybees near farms using the commercially-produced bumblebees, continuing to import bumblebee colonies that carry parasites is also likely to introduce new species or strains of parasites into some areas, the authors warn.
According to co-author of the study Professor William Hughes of the University of Sussex: "If we don't act, then the risk is that potentially tens of thousands of parasite-carrying bumblebee colonies may be imported into the UK each year, and hundreds of thousands worldwide. Many bee species are already showing significant population declines due to multiple factors. The introduction of more or new parasite infections will at a minimum exacerbate this, and could quite possibly directly drive declines."
Although this is the first study of its kind in
|Contact: Becky Allen|