Living creatures are dying all over the Earth. Honey bees have been dying for a long time now and the populations of four different species of North American bumblebee have declined. A new study found that fungus infections are more likely to kill off these bees more than they affect other bee species. This has been going on for over 5 years (subscribers can still listen to Linda Howe’s report on Colony Collapse Disorder).
In LiveScience.com, Wynne Parry quotes researcher Jeffrey Lozier as saying, "What we wanted to do is say ‘If you look at the entire country, do these patterns hold up? We picked these target species because they sort of were canaries in the coal mine." Parry quotes researcher James Strange as saying, "We need to keep a general view that pollinators seem to be declining, but each bumblebee species may be responding to different pressures that are causing declines. Not all the bees are disappearing. It turns out there may be winners and there may be losers."
While the threat to agriculture is the major problem for humans, there is another potential human concern as well. Researchers found that populations that were affected had less genetic diversity than stable species. This is significant because genetic diversity enables a population to respond to changing environments or novel threats like disease Parry quotes Lozier as saying, "The amazing thing we did find is gene flow appears very high." By this he means that American bumblebees caught in Texas were genetically indistinguishable from those from South Dakota, suggesting the bees are reproducing (and spreading genes) across wide areas of the US and this means that, "if gene flow is really this high, it could prove a potential mechanism for the spread of the pathogen." It could indicate a new way for human pathogens to spread as well.
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