Bee trafficking responsible for population decline.

New research from UK scientists suggests that the global trade in bees plays a significant part in the worldwide decline in bee populations.

Scientists from the Universities of Exeter, Sheffield and Salford have been using genetic evidence to investigate how the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) has spread across the planet. DWV, in combination with the Varroa mite, can kill off whole hives; the mites feed on bee larvae but also inject the fatal virus into grown bees.

The scientists examined genetic samples from honeybees from across 17 countries. Their analysis concludes that DWV started in Europe before spreading as far afield as New Zealand and North America. Bees cannot migrate over these distances unaided, so must have been transported by humans. The European honeybee is exported and used commercially worldwide.

The researchers claim that tighter regulation on the import of honeybees is required if global bee populations are to be protected, and have suggested mandatory health screenings and restrictions on cross-border transport of bees. This should help preserve the few areas that aren’t already infected, and also reduce the spread of other viruses.

The research has been published in the journal Science here:

Unfortunately it is available to subscribers only. However, the BBC Website has a basic summary of the research here:

The BBC also has a fantastic iWonder page about the importance of bees. It’s an excellent resource with videos, diagrams etc:


Some questions to ponder with pupils:

  • Albert Einstein allegedly claimed that “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live". What did he mean? Why are bees so important to mankind?
  • The spread of DWV is an example of how mankind can effect global ecosystems by transporting organisms around the planet. What other examples can they think of? What problem organisms have been imported to Britain? What problems have we exported abroad?
  • How have plants adapted in order to take advantage of honeybees? The bees get the nectar; what’s in it for the plants?
  • Drone bees are haploid. Most animals are diploid. What do these terms mean, and what are the implications for bee genetics and behaviour?

Interested in how to incorporate Cutting Edge Science research into your lessons? The National Science Learning Network, in partnership with Research Councils UK, offer a number of exciting Cutting Edge Science courses designed to help bring Cutting Edge Science into your day to day classroom practice, including courses on topics such as Biodiversity and Genetics, populations, evolution and ecosystems.

All CPD which is part of the Bringing Cutting Edge Science into the Classroom programme qualifies for a bursary of up to £180 per day. Click here for further details:


Subject(s)Biology, Science
Age11-14, 14-16, 16-19
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