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A warming world may spell bad news for honey bees

Copyright: Rahul Chakraborty
  • A bee parasites from exotic climates threatens UK bees
  • Research predicts that an exotic gut parasite could cause increasing damage to UK bees as climates warms
  • The spread of the parasite is linked to climate and its superior competitive ability

Researchers have found that the spread of an exotic honey bee parasite – now found worldwide – is linked not only to its superior competitive ability, but also to climate, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The team of researchers, including Myrsini Natsopoulou from the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, who co-led the research alongside Dr Dino McMahon from Queen's University Belfast, believes that the parasite could become more prevalent in the UK in the future and their findings demonstrate the importance of both parasite competition and climate change in the spread of this emerging disease.

Myrsini Natsopoulou said: "Our results reveal not only that the exotic parasite is a better competitor than its original close relative, but that its widespread distribution and patterns of prevalence in nature depend on climatic conditions too".

The research compared pathogen growth in honey bees that were infected with both the exotic parasite, Nosema ceranae and its original native relative, Nosema apis.

Experiments showed that, while both parasites inhibit each other's growth, the exotic Nosema ceranae has a much greater negative impact on the native Nosema apis than vice versa. By integrating the effects of competition and climate into a simple mathematical model, the researchers were better able to predict the relative occurrence of both parasite species in nature: Nosema ceranae is common in Southern Europe but rare in Northern Europe.

Co-author of the study, Prof Robert Paxton of Queen's University Belfast, added: "This emerging parasite is more susceptible to cold than its original close relative, possibly reflecting its presumed origin in east Asia. In the face of rising global temperatures, our findings suggest that it will increase in prevalence and potentially lead to increased honey bee colony losses in Britain."

This study was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, a joint venture of the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust, managed under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership.

Notes to editors

The full paper can be read at: rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org.

Natsopoulou ME, McMahon DP, Doublet V, Bryden J, Paxton RJ. (2015) Interspecific competition in honey bee intracellular gut parasites is asymmetric and favours the spread of an emerging infectious disease. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 20141896. dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.1896

The research involved: Queen's University Belfast, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Freie Universität Berlin, BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, and Royal Holloway, University of London.

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £484M (2013-2014), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk.
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes.


Tags: environmental change farming RCUK partnerships BBSRC press release