19 May 2020 Honey bees feel sting of viral disease

There’s nothing new in nature. Viruses have been around for as long as plants and animals, if not longer. Most viruses are benign to humans and other animals and in fact are essential for life. Some—as humans are finding out with COVID-19—have negative consequences.

There’s nothing new in nature. Viruses have been around for as long as plants and animals, if not longer. Most viruses are benign to humans and other animals and in fact are essential for life. Some—as humans are finding out with COVID-19—have negative consequences.

Chronic bee paralysis is a well-defined viral disease of honey bees across the world. Until recently, according to a study in Nature Communications, it caused rare, but severe, symptoms, including colony loss.

While the vast majority of pollinator species are wild, including more than 20,000 species of wild bees, the mass breeding and large-scale transport of pollinators, such as honey bees, can pose risks for the transmission of pathogens and parasites, says a May 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Photo by Charlie Bartlett UNEP
Photo by Charlie Bartlett / UNEP

“Emerging infectious diseases… often arise from livestock or plant movements,” notes the Nature Communications study.

The study finds that the global trade in honey bees has expanded massively, owing to their use for managed pollination and honey production. This trade can also increase the geographic distribution of viral, bacterial and fungal honey bee parasites and pathogens. Consequently, it could increase prevalence of emerging infectious diseases, some of which have been implicated in large-scale population (colony) losses.

Chronic bee paralysis has a worldwide distribution, with recent increased incidence reported in Asia, Europe and North America, the study adds.

We all depend on the survival of bees

Bees are important pollinators and pollination is a fundamental process for the survival of our ecosystems. Nearly 90% of the world’s wild flowering plant species depend, entirely, or at least in part, on animal pollination, along with more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of global agricultural land. Not only do pollinators contribute directly to food security, but they are key to conserving biodiversity.

To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, the United Nations designated 20 May as World Bee Day.

2020 UNEP infographic
2020 UNEP infographic

This year’s theme  “Bee Engaged” focuses on bee production and good practices adopted by beekeepers to support their livelihoods and deliver good quality products.

Together with World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (21 May) and the International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May), World Bee Day is devoted to raising awareness on areas that address the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, namely biodiversity conservation; health, food security and biodiversity; and people, culture and biodiversity.

World Environment Day on 5 June is also celebrating biodiversity. The occasion’s theme--It's Time for Nature—highlights how nature delivers vital services to humanity and the urgent need to halt its destruction. 

Nature is in crisis, threatened by biodiversity and habitat loss, global heating and toxic pollution. Failure to act is failing humanity. Addressing the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and protecting ourselves against future global threats requires sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste; strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity; and a clear commitment to “building back better”, creating green jobs and facilitating the transition to carbon neutral economies. Humanity depends on action now for a resilient and sustainable future.

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