Increase in Bee Virus Cases After Pollinating Blueberries

Jenn Hoskins
16th June, 2024

Increase in Bee Virus Cases After Pollinating Blueberries

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study from the University of British Columbia examined honey bee colonies before, during, and after highbush blueberry pollination
  • Researchers found that sacbrood virus (SBV) levels were significantly higher in colonies near blueberry fields six weeks after pollination
  • The increase in SBV may be linked to the health decline observed in honey bee colonies following blueberry pollination
The health of honey bee colonies is crucial for the pollination of many crops, including highbush blueberries. However, beekeepers have reported poor colony health following blueberry pollination. A new study from the University of British Columbia investigates the potential causes of this decline, focusing on common honey bee pathogens[1]. In this study, researchers sampled adult honey bees from colonies before, during, at the end of, and after highbush blueberry pollination over two years (2020 and 2021). They detected nine viruses and two species of Vairimorpha (formerly Nosema), as well as Melisococcus plutonius, the bacterium responsible for European foulbrood disease. The samples were taken from colonies located near and far from blueberry fields to compare pathogen prevalence. The findings revealed a significant interaction between time and proximity to blueberry fields on the pathogen community, particularly six weeks after the pollination period (t4). Notably, sacbrood virus (SBV) detections were significantly higher in colonies near blueberry fields at t4, suggesting a potential link between SBV and the health decline observed by beekeepers. These results align with prior studies that have shown the impact of pathogens on honey bee health. For example, research has demonstrated that viruses like deformed wing virus (DWV) and black queen cell virus (BQCV) can spill over from managed honey bees to wild bumblebees through shared floral resources[2]. The presence of such viruses on flowers indicates that floral resources could be a transmission route, supporting the idea that blueberry flowers might contribute to SBV spread. Additionally, previous studies have highlighted the role of pathogens and parasites in reducing colony productivity and health. For instance, a large-scale study across Canada found that high levels of viruses and Nosema spp. were associated with lower colony productivity and size[3]. This study also emphasized the importance of social immunity behaviors in mitigating pathogen loads, suggesting that colonies with strong social defenses were better able to maintain health despite pathogen pressures. The current study builds on these findings by identifying a specific pathogen, SBV, that could be linked to the health issues observed in honey bee colonies after blueberry pollination. The detection of SBV as a primary driver of pathogen differences at t4 underscores the need for further research to determine its exact role and mechanisms in colony health decline. In summary, the University of British Columbia's study provides valuable insights into the pathogen dynamics associated with highbush blueberry pollination. By identifying SBV as a potential factor in post-pollination health declines, it opens new avenues for investigating and mitigating the impacts of pathogens on honey bee colonies. Further research is essential to fully understand the interactions between crop pollination, pathogen prevalence, and honey bee health.

AgricultureEnvironmentAnimal Science


Main Study

1) Higher prevalence of sacbrood virus in Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae) colonies after pollinating highbush blueberries.

Published 15th June, 2024

Related Studies

2) RNA virus spillover from managed honeybees (Apis mellifera) to wild bumblebees (Bombus spp.).

3) Phenomic analysis of the honey bee pathogen-web and its dynamics on colony productivity, health and social immunity behaviors.

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