Protecting honeybees through stress management

Posted Dec 3, 2014 by Tim Sandle
Global honeybee populations are in decline and under assault from a range of factors, including pollution, chemicals and parasites. Researchers argue that limiting stress can help bee populations more strongly resist these threats.
Experts explain why everyone should worry about honeybee colony collapse that will affect our food s...
Experts explain why everyone should worry about honeybee colony collapse that will affect our food supply, prices and economy.
Sajjad Fazel (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The research group argue that bee populations have a greater chance of survival through controlled stress management and better honeybee nutrition. Different types of bees, including honeybees, face a wide range of threats, as Digital Journal has previously reported. It is difficult to determine which factor is the major cause. Taking a different route, a science group are focusing not so much on a particular factor but more on helping honeybees deal with the different stressors. This is because stress probably affects bee immunity and health.
The scientists argue that as bees grow weaker with stress, they become increasingly susceptible to diseases that do not affect other insects. This problem is magnified by honeybees living together in close quarters.
Some honeybee pathogens, like the deformed wing virus, can cause asymptomatic infections that are normally kept under control by the immune system. However, when the immune system is disrupted, such pathogens can lead to bee death.
A similar issue arises with the Varroa mite parasite. The mite sucks hemolymph (a blood-like substance) from the bees’ bodies. This debilitates the bees. Furthermore, neurotoxic insecticides at sublethal doses can also impair the bees' immune response.
However, research suggests that the extent to which one bee population is affected compared with another depends upon the relative health of the colony and the levels of stress. Maintaining the right habitat and ensuring that bees have a good diet are seen as key factors to help minimize stress. This includes supplementary nutrition in the form of sugars, pollen, and other food sources.
The findings have been reported in the journal Trends in Parasitology. The paper is headed “multiple interactions in the hive ecosystem.”
In related news, a bee parasite, normally associated with more exotic climates is threatening British bees. Here a research model predicts that a rare gut parasite could cause increasing damage to U.K. bees as the climate warms.