Research to help bring honeybees back from the brink

Researchers from the University of Bath are collaborating on a £1 million project to reduce the impact of disease on honeybees.

The work, led by the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera), will look at 20 years worth of data collected by Fera’s National Bee Unit (NBU) on the damaging disease European Foulbrood (EFB) to build a model of how this and other honeybee diseases are spreading.

EFB is a serious disease of honeybees - NBU Inspectors find 600-900 infected colonies each year, representing around four per cent of all colonies inspected.

Dr Ed Feil and Dr Nick Priest, from the University’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry, will look at the genetics of the bees and the bacterium which causes the disease, whilst Dr Nick Britton, from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, will mathematically model how the disease spreads within the bee colony.

Other collaborators, including top academics from the Universities of Newcastle and Warwick will be investigating how the behaviour of the beekeeper and changing weather conditions determine the spread of disease through the British landscape.

The project will produce the first ever model of its kind that can be applied at colony, apiary or even regional level, and will help scientists find ways to prevent the spread of this and other honeybee diseases.

Once EFB movement is understood the team will turn their attentions to diseases which are damaging to other pollinators such as bumblebees and wasps.

Collaborators at the National Bee Unit will be looking at how beekeeper behaviour affects the spread of the disease

The project is one of nine worth a total of £9.5M funded from the Insect Pollinators Initiative announced this week (22 June 2010), as part of National Insect Week.

These projects will explore the causes and consequences of threats to insect pollinators and will help to answer questions about the decline of honeybees and other pollinating insects over recent years.

The aim is to inform the development of strategies that will ensure that the pollination of agricultural and horticultural crops is protected and biodiversity in natural ecosystems is maintained.

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