The risk of extinction of the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
The Changing Climate is impacting biodiversity and extinction rates at an increasingly and alarmingly rapid rate (Foden et al,2013).The Apis mellifera isn’t on the IUCN Red List, but this species is still at risk from becoming an endangered species from the multiple threats it faces such as pesticides and diseases. The Apis mellifera is a common species in the UK but may decline rapidly due to increasing pressures and recent increases in colony collapse.
The Apis mellifera is one of four species of honey bees on Earth, it is native to Europe and Africa but has been transported across the planet by the exploits of man (Jong et al, 1982). The Apis mellifera is currently distributed across: Africa, Australia, Caribbean, Europe and Northern Asia (excluding China), Middle America, North America, South America, Oceania and Southern Asia (Interagency Taxonomic Information System, 2013). They have a large distribution but do not inhabit tropical Asia where mites that prey on some of the three Asian species of honey bee are most likely responsible for their demise (Jong,1982). The wide and varied distribution of the species indicates a high adaptive capacity, but this does not mean the species is not at risk.
Although Apis mellifera are adaptive and have a large distribution, they are still a sensitive species. The Neonicotinoid pesticides, or Neonics, pose a long term toxic risk to honey bees such as Apis mellifera (Levitt,2010). Neonicotinoid pesticides are a comparatively new group of synthetic chemicals which are used as a coating for agricultural seeds and in pot plants to combat pests, the chemicals spread through the plant and into the pollen and nectar to kill insects which are attacking the plant, but his also affects honey bees feeding on the plant (Levitt,2010). The Neonicotinoid pesticides weaken the insects immune systems and affect honey bees ability to forage and breed, so a hive whose colony have ingested Neonicotinoid pesticides cannot function properly and is most likely to die off (Levitt,2010). In October, 2013 37 million honey bees were discovered dead on a single Canadian farm as a result of poisoning from Neonicotinoid pesticides (TLB Staff,2013). The pesticide poses a large risk and the pesticides can easily be replaced by other chemicals which won’t affect the bees in such a devastating way, but companies like Bayer insist on selling the Neonicotinoid pesticides as it is one of their main products(TLB Staff,2013). The nitro-substituted compounds in the Neonicotinoid pesticides were the most toxic to the honey bees, the Cyano-substituted Neonicotinoids exhibit a much lower toxicity in bees so would be preferable to use (Iwasa et al, 2004).
Apis mellifera is also an exposed species, it faces many threats such as pesticides from farming, and due to its expansive distribution it is likely to experience changes in climate across the globe. An example of its exposure would be its risk from parasites such as mites. There are three groups of mites which are a potential risk to bee colonies: parasites, phoretic mites, and house guests (Jong,1982). There are very few parasitic mite species e.g. Varroa jacobsoni, Acarapis woodi and Topilaelaps clareae but they can cause serious diseases in honey bees such as the deformed wing virus, so they pose a large potential threat to the species. Mites have a large distribution across the globe so pose a large threat to Apis mellifera (Jong, 1982).The species of mite, Varroa jacobsoniwere, is a highly effective transmitter of the deformed wing virus in bees. Adult female mites obtained from honey bee pupae naturally infected with the deformed wing virus have much higher levels of deformed wing virus titers than in their hosts, so the virus potentially can replicate within the Varroa jacobsoniwere adult mites (Bowen-walker et al,1999). For the deformed wing virus to show symptoms in the honey bees it must be present in the pupae above a certain concentration and the level of infection depends if the mites have been feeding on dead or deformed bees with the virus (Bowen-walker et al,1999).
Honey bees posses only one-third as many genes in 17 gene families in insect immunity. Bees have a tendency to be attacked by a limited set of highly coevolved pathogens and has strength of social barriers to disease (Evans et al,2006). Samples of adult honey bees and pupae taken from 36 apiaries in the spring, summer and autumn during 2002 showed that honey bee virus infections occur persistently in the populations despite any symptoms showing, suggesting that the honey bee colony disease outbreaks could be due to environmental factors leading to viral replication in the honey bees (Tentcheva et al,2004).
With the rapidly changing climate, potential sea level rise and increasing temperatures wouldn’t pose a huge threat to the Apis mellifera due to their wide distribution across the planet. Although they may be negatively affected in one area, it is unlikely that in all regions they will face the same threats. Increasing temperatures poses the largest threat from climate change as it threatens to push boundaries of species and potentially will cause an increase in desertification which is a habitat which the honey bee isn’t suited for. Also changes in water tables will cause potential threats as this will cause changes in habitat which may not suit the honey bee. It is hard to predict the affects of climate change on honey bee’s such as the Apis mellifera as there isn’t very much past environmental data to predict future population change, but due to the high adaptive capacity of Apis mellifera it is most likely that the affects to the species would be minimal since they cover such a huge area of land.
Apis mellifera are very exposed to threats, briefly described e.g. parasitic mites (Varroa jacobsoni), disease and pesticides. The species is also very sensitive and are negatively affected by the many threats and pressures they face. Apis mellifera are not highly vulnerable as they have a high adaptive capacity, which can be observed through their wide distribution and adaptive capacity to forest fragmentation. Apis mellifera are at risk, but aren’t likely to go extinct in the near future. The best method of conservation would be to monitor the species and support adaptive responses. The threats will be hard to counter as many are global threats such as the mites, also the threats of disease to the bee colonies will be hard to counter due to the long ranges honey bees travel, so transmission of diseases is hard to stop. A potential risk of losses of colonies would be genetic variability of the species.
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