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One of the key factors thought to contribute to the decline in bee populations is disease, alongside others like habitat loss and pesticides. While bees can have a large range, they do not often migrate or stray from their original territory which limits the spread of dangerous diseases. However, it turns out that some of these diseases may be able to cross the species barrier/are not limited to just bees.
Scientists at the Royal Holloway University of London and Oxford University have detected bee diseases in hoverflies, potentially picked up when foraging at the same flowers. Hoverflies typically travel much further than our native bees, migrating all across Europe and potentially introducing this disease to bee populations previously uninfected. It is not yet known if the hoverflies are susceptible to these diseases or if they just function as carriers, vectors of disease.
If this virus can harm other insects like hoverflies, which are also important pollinators, the impacts of these diseases could be much more severe than previously thought.
What is pollination?
This is the process by which pollen grains are transferred from the male part of the flower (the anther) to the female part (stigma). This transfer can occur between parts of the same flower and between plants of the same species. This results in fertilised egg cells which develop into the seeds often at the centre of fruits and vegetables.
What do bees do for us?
Pollinators like bees are very important to the worlds ecosystem and economy, they provide a crucial ecosystem service by helping crops and wild plants to grow. They achieve this through pollen dispersal and fertilisation, this also supports a great variety of wildlife through their habitats such as wildflower meadows. Products typically fertilised by bees and other pollinators include; tomatoes, apples, blueberries, almonds, cherries, avocados, onions, cucumbers, grapefruit, pumpkins and oranges to name just a few. The total number of crops fertilised and dependant on bees is thought to be in the hundreds.
Source: The British Beekeepers Association
What can you do about it?
While you may not be able to do anything about the diseases, there are a few simple steps we can take in our gardens or local parks to increase the survival rates of these vulnerable creatures. Buying organic fruits and vegetables promotes farming practices that limit the use of pesticides that can negatively affect bees. Buying your produce locally can also help, as small scale local farmers are more likely to engage in organic practices, even without the official certification. If you really want to give the bees a helping hand you could even set up a hive on your property. This would provide a safe shelter for bees to live in and in return they will pollinate and encourage local flora.
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