Honeybees across the globe are getting killed by the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), and humans are largely responsible for the epidemic. According to a study published in the journal Science, the deadly disease has spread around the world through global trade of infected honeybees. Dr Lena Bayer-Wilfert of the University of Exeter said stricter controls were needed to protect bees from other diseases.
European honeybees at the heart of the epidemic
Genetic evidence suggests that European bees are at the heart of the pandemic. Scientists tracked the emergence of DWV by studying genetic samples from bees and Varroa mites in 32 locations across 17 countries. They found that the virus spread from Europe to the United States, New Zealand, and many other countries. European honeybees were the main transmitter of the disease.
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The virus spreads faster because of its association with the Varroa mites. European bees carrying Varroa mites infected with DWV are the reason behind the crash of honeybee populations. In the last few decades, farmers have watched the virus and mite together killing off the whole hives. In the US, honeybee population has declined by 59% between 1947 and 2005.
Scientists call for tighter controls
Neither Varroa nor the virus is destructive on its own. But together they form a lethal combination. Varroa mites feed on bee larvae, and also inject the deadly DWV into the body of adult bees. Their combination is believed to have wiped out millions of bee colonies worldwide. Protecting and restoring honeybee population is very important because they pollinate more than 30% of our crops.
Scientists have called for tighter controls on importing honeybees, including mandatory health screenings and more checks on cross-border movements. They said every effort should be made to prevent the Varroa mite from reaching a few countries that are free of the mite. European bees are widely used in several countries for commercial pollination of crops as well as for honey production.