Commercially Reared Bumblebees: Risks To Wild Pollinators

The risk of disease transference by commercially reared bumblebees to other bees, was highlighted in a study back in 2010, carried out by the Department of Entomology, The Pennsylvania State University by Singh et al:


“RNA Viruses in Hymenopteran Pollinators: Evidence of Inter-Taxa Virus Transmission via Pollen and Potential Impact on Non-Apis Hymenopteran Species”

The scientists obtained bumblebees that had been commercially reared in order to perform their experiments.


Commercially reared bumblebees that were meant to be disease free, had diseases.....

This study was actually devised to ascertain whether disease can be passed from honey bees to bumblebees via pollen.

Take into account that commercially reared bumblebees are fed pollen actually harvested from honey bee hives.

However, when the scientists examined the bumblebees, they found that in some cases, they already had some of the viruses under investigation!

In other words, some of these commercially reared bumblebees that the scientists had acquired, and that were meant to be free of disease for the purpose of the experiment, were actually already contaminated!

Selected quotes from the study are as follows (an explanation of the abbreviations is below), and there is a link to the actual study at the bottom of the page:


  • "In our greenhouse study on the interspecies transmission of viruses between honey bees and bumble bees, we obtained bumble bee colonies from two different vendors in two different years....

    During the first year trials, tests of bees from one vendor revealed that all six bumble bee colonies came already infected with IAPV, while the colonies from the other vendor were IAPV free."
  • "In replicate trials the next year, colonies purchased from the previous year's IAPV-free vendor arrived infected with IAPV. Both companies reported that honey bee-collected pollen purchased from honey bee operations in the US and Canada was used in rearing the bumble bees. We surmise that this pollen was contaminated with IAPV and served as the vehicle for viral transmission into these colonies. More than 200 tons of honeybee-collected and preferably freshly-frozen pollen is used annually for bumble bee rearing worldwide [66]. This same concern may also extend over to honey bees, since many beekeepers purchase pollen to feed their bees."
  • "In 2008, six commercial greenhouse bumble bee colonies (a queen and approx. 100 workers) were obtained each from two major commercial bumble bee rearing facilities; Koppert Biological Systems (Romulus, Michigan, US) and Biobest Biological Systems (Leamington, Ontario, Canada). Three honey bee colonies were established along with three bumble bee colonies (Bombus impatiens) in each of four rooms (16′×20′) in a greenhouse, with separate equipment used in each room."
  • All colonies of honey bees and bumble bees were tested for IAPV, DWV, BQCV, SBV, ABPV, CBPV and KBV when introduced into the greenhouse. For each bumble bee colony, five workers were tested upon arrival; for honey bee colonies, 20 workers and 10 egg samples were tested. All bumble bee colonies were found to have DWV and BQCV upon arrival; no KBV, SBV, ABPV or CBPV was detected. The Koppert bumble bees had no IAPV; however, the Biobest bees had the eastern strain of IAPV upon arrival. For the 2008 experiment, we focused only on Koppert bumble bees. The honey bee colonies had DWV, BQCV, and low prevalence of KBV; no IAPV was found in the honey bee colonies."
  • "In our greenhouse study on the interspecies transmission of viruses between honey bees and bumble bees, we obtained bumble bee colonies from two different vendors in two different years. During the first year trials, tests of bees from one vendor revealed that all six bumble bee colonies came already infected with IAPV, while the colonies from the other vendor were IAPV free. In replicate trials the next year, colonies purchased from the previous year's IAPV-free vendor arrived infected with IAPV. Both companies reported that honey bee-collected pollen purchased from honey bee operations in the US and Canada was used in rearing the bumble bees. We surmise that this pollen was contaminated with IAPV and served as the vehicle for viral transmission into these colonies.

    More than 200 tons of honeybee-collected and preferably freshly-frozen pollen is used annually for bumble bee rearing worldwide. This same concern may also extend over to honey bees, since many beekeepers purchase pollen to feed their bees.”

Abbreviations:
IAPV = Israeli Acute Paralysis virus
DWV = deformed wing virus
BQCV = Black queen cell virus
SBV = Sacbrood virus
ABPV = Acute bee paralysis virus
CBPV = Chronic bee paralysis virus
KBV = Kashmir bee virus

The whole study can be viewed here (opens new window).



And yet the study also states that it is possible to treat the pollen (it can be gamma irradiated without destroying nutritional and physical properties).

Before organisations offer commercially reared bumblebees for sale, shouldn't steps be taken to ensure pollen has been appropriately treated before it is sold and fed to other bees, and used in any breeding programmes?


US conservation charity, Xerces, raises concerns about commercially reared bumblebees

That diseases could be spread from commercially reared to wild species, is a concern also raised by Xerces:

"Between 1992 and 1994, queens of B. occidentalis and B. impatiens were shipped to European rearing facilities, where colonies were produced then shipped back to the U.S. for commercial pollination. Bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp has hypothesized that these bumble bee colonies acquired a disease (probably a virulent strain of the microsporidian Nosema bombi) from a European bee that was in the same rearing facility, the buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris). The North American bumble bees would have had no prior resistance to this pathogen. Dr. Thorp hypothesizes that the disease then spread to wild populations of B. occidentalis and B. franklini in the West (from exposure to infected populations of commercially reared B. occidentalis), and B. affinis and B. terricola in the East (from exposure to commercially reared B. impatiens). In the late 1990′s, biologists began to notice that B. affinis, B. occidentalis, B. terricola, and B. franklini were severely declining.”

Read more (see section 'threats') here (opens a new window).


Why does it take so long for us to learn from mistakes?


I don't think that the human goal to produce food (in an age of tremendous food waste), is a good enough reason to be negligent of the well-being of our pollinators, especially given global pollinator decline.  Too often, it seems to me that short term gain is prioritized over long term thinking for the good of the whole.

Too often, it seems to me that short term gain is prioritized over long term thinking for the good of the whole.


The time for regulators to wake up is long, long, long overdue!


Spread the word.....


Read more about research into the disease risks posed to wild bees via  commercially reared bumblebees here.



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