US honeybees at risk from Zika pesticides

Recent research suggests that up to 13 percent of US beekeepers are in danger of losing their colonies due to pesticides sprayed to contain the Zika virus.

The Zika virus, that can cause severe brain defects in unborn children, is spread by mosquitoes, so the insects are being targeted in the southern US where Zika-carrying mosquito species live. The new research, by the University of Exeter and the University of California, Berkeley, was sparked by a 2016 media report on millions of honeybees killed by Zika spraying. Honeybees are not native to the US and most colonies are kept by beekeepers, who play a key role in agriculture by helping to pollinate crops.

"A colony unexpectedly exposed to pesticide spraying for mosquitoes would almost certainly be wiped out," said Lewis Bartlett, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

"Beekeepers in the US move their colonies around to support farmers, so a beekeeper with all their bees in one area at a given time could lose them all."

Sciencedaily.com reports how some states, such as Florida, have well-established mosquito control programmes and systems to limit the effects on unintended targets such as bees. But the researchers warn other states are less well prepared to organise measures such as warning beekeepers before spraying.

"At the start of this research we spoke to a beekeeper who was caught unawares and lost all her bees," Bartlett said. "Beekeeping is a very traditional way of life in the US, with a lot of pride in families who have done it for generations, but many are struggling now. Given all the threats facing bees, even a small additional problem could become the straw that broke the camel's back.”

 


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