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BBSRC funding helps Scottish beekeepers map honeybee health

BBSRC funding helps Scottish beekeepers map honeybee health - 28 October 2013. iStock
News from: University of Dundee

Beekeepers in Scotland will help scientific study of the health of bee populations across the country thanks to a BBSRC-funded scheme.

Beekeeepers Alan Riach and John Durkacz with Dr Fiona Highet from SASA outside SASA's labs in Edinburgh. Image: Chris Connolly
Beekeeepers Alan Riach and John Durkacz with Dr Fiona Highet from SASA outside SASA's labs in Edinburgh. Image: Chris Connolly

Beekeepers have already helped discover the widespread presence of an important bee parasite in the UK for the first time, and now the scheme will be extended to paint a detailed picture of bee disease in Scotland.

Last year beekeepers from around Scotland worked with Dr Chris Connolly from the University of Dundee to identify possible spores from Nosema ceranae, which were later confirmed as such by DNA sequencing.

The discovery is important because Nosema ceranae wasn't thought to be widespread in the UK, and has been implicated in causing disease and colony failure in bees.

Dr Connolly said: "To our amazement, we found that Nosema ceranae is actually not just present in Scotland, but is widespread. Some studies have suggested that Nosema ceranae leads to a dwindling disease and colony failure. Therefore it is critical to monitor its presence and association with colony losses in the UK."

Now 'Sparking Impact' money awarded to the University of Dundee by BBSRC will fund extending the scheme to include screening for other parasites and map honeybee populations in Scotland, with help from Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).

Given the high failure rate of honeybee colonies seen in Scotland in 2012-13 it is important to investigate whether particular threats correlate with honeybee losses. This is only possible by collaborating with beekeepers to provide large scale field data.

The Sparking Impact funds were awarded to the University of Dundee as part of BBSRC's Excellence with Impact contest, to fund additional work on existing research projects and boost their potential impact.

As part of the scheme 18 field microscopes were bought for trained beekeepers to identify the presence of Nosema spores. Suspected positive samples will be forwarded to SASA labs for confirmation by specially trained beekeepers.

Dr Connolly said: "The spark may have already started a fire, as once this country-wide screening is in place, further training by SASA will be provided to enable beekeepers to screen for all disease threats to Scotland's honeybees. Once this large disease dataset is combined with information on local land use, pesticide exposure and honeybee colony failures it will become possible to report on the relative impact of all threats to the decline of our honeybees. Such a scale of evidence is not feasible without the support of beekeepers and can provide vital leads for future research.

"The response so far from beekeepers and SASA has been fantastic. The Sparking Impact funds have made this collaboration possible, which looks set to deliver some really valuable insights into the health of bees, which are crucial as a pollinator of all sorts of plants and crops.

Phil McAnespie, SBA president, said: "The SBA is delighted to have the opportunity of being involved in this very important Nosema species project.

"The importance of this scientific research cannot be overstated and I know will advance our knowledge of the spread of this honeybee pathogen and its implication for our colonies in Scotland."

ENDS