UK researchers from the University of Exeter have found that the Apis mellifera honeybee, native to Europe, is a transmitter of Deformed Wings Virus (DWV). The deadly infection, mostly carried by the Varroa Destructor mite, threatens the existence of bees worldwide.
“The deformed wing virus is a major threat to honeybee populations across the world and this epidemic has been driven by the trade and movement of honeybee colonies,” says the study, published in the Science magazine on Friday.
Varroa mites are parasites that feed on adult honeybees and also on their larvae, and endanger entire hives. The virus attacks a honeybee pupa, causing it to shrink and deform bees’ wings.
Researchers have studied genetic samples of mites and honeybees from over 17 countries. They discovered the virus originated in Europe and subsequently migrated to North America, Australia and New Zealand.
“This is the first study to conclude that Europe is the backbone of the global spread of the bee-killing combination of Deformed Wing Virus and Varroa,” said Dr Lena Wilfert, senior author of the study.
The report calls for immediate action to halt the spread of the virus and prevent it from entering regions where the infection is yet to manifest.
“We must now maintain strict limits on the movement of bees, whether they are known to carry Varroa or not. It’s also really important that beekeepers at all levels take steps to control Varroa in their hives, as this viral disease can also affect wild pollinators,” Wilfert said, advocating stricter approaches to the transportation of bees.