Invasion of tough European bumblebees could wipe out their weaker British cousins, scientists warn

 

Environment Editor

A A A

A species of bee from Europe that has stronger resistance to parasite infections than native bumblebees has spread across the UK, raising fears that it could wipe out large numbers of the country’s beleagured population of domestic species.

Since arriving in the UK from continental Europe 13 years ago, tree bumblebees have rapidly spread despite them carrying high levels of an infection that normally prevents queen bees from producing colonies, according to new research carried out by Royal Holloway, University of London.

The species has successfully spread at an average rate of nearly 4,500 square miles – about half the size of Wales – each year, according to the research, published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

The tree bumblebee's prodigious expansion and resistance to disease has increased concerns about the native bee population, which has been hit hard in recent ears by a combination of parasites, habitat loss and the widespread use of nerve-agent pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, and which have been partial and temporarily banned in the EU.

"Since its arrival to the UK, the tree bumblebee has been rapidly spreading despite high levels of this castrating parasite," said researcher Catherine Jones, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway. "Bees are essential to our food chain and the populations of our native bumblebees have declined in recent decades,” she added.

Professor Mark Brown, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, said: "We still don't know whether there could be any negative impacts if the bumblebees compete for food or nesting sites. Further research should focus on how our native bees are affected and the pollination services that this new species provides."

A hive in London (Getty) A hive in London (Getty) Researchers collected tree bumblebee queens from the wild, checked them for parasites and then monitored colony development in a laboratory. Despite the bees having high levels of a roundworm or threadworm parasite that usually sterilises other species, a quarter of the queens were able to produce offspring.

However, while the tree bumblebee may pose a threat to native species by using up resources, it may be of some benefit because it may be able to protect them from parasites, the researchers found.

“The arrival of tree bumblebees could be hugely beneficial to us by absorbing parasite pressure from our native species, as well as helping to pollinate wild plants and crops," said Ms Jones.

Professor Brown added: "These findings show promising signs for bee populations in the UK.”

The Royal Holloway research comes a month after a new study revealed that the UK is suffering one of the worst rates of honeybee colony deaths in Europe. In the cold winter of 2012-13, 29 per cent of UK colonies died, a rate exceeded only by Belgium, at 34 per cent. By contrast, only five per cent of Italian colonies were lost. Summer losses were also high in the UK, at 9.7 per cent.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes