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Food Security and Biodiversity: Honeybee Decline in Europe

This Food GRP event was held in Brussels as part of a GRP International event programme for the University's 50th anniversary celebrations on the 10th June 2015, 11am-12pm at the Brussels Office, Avenue d'Auderghem 22-28 Oudergemsellaan, Brussels

The European honeybee, Apis mellifera, is the world’s most important commercially-managed pollinator. The global movement of honeybees for pollination and honey production has inadvertently also resulted in the widespread distribution of their associated pests and pathogens. Most important of these is the ectoparasitic mite, Varroa destructor (varroa), which over the last 100 years has spread from South East Asia to almost every country globally.

Unfortunately, honeybee stocks have been declining over recent decades in regions of Europe and elsewhere, causing concern about the future availability of honeybee pollination services in these areas. To the best of our knowledge, there is no single overriding cause of honeybee colony losses. There has been a lot of publicity recently about neonicotinoid pesticides being responsible for bee decline, but there is a limited evidence base to support this. In contrast, studies have shown that infectious diseases are a significant factor in honeybee decline. Some of the most serious problems are associated with infestations of the varroa mite, and the viruses, such as deformed wing virus, it transmits to honeybees.

Keynote talks:

Dr David Chandler - School of Life Sciences, Warwick Crop Centre

Dr David Chandler talked about the evidence base for the role of pesticides and pathogens in honeybee decline, and discussed research done at the University of Warwick to develop a biological control agent of varroa. Presentation(PDF Document)

Professor David Evans, School of Life Sciences

Professor David Evans summarised studies at the University of Warwick which have analysed the influence of the varroa mite on the deformed wing virus (DWV) population and have identified a single virulent strain of DWV that is associated with pathogenesis. This knowledge is being used to develop antiviral therapies, to improve strategies to combat the varroa mite and to inform studies of honeybee strains exhibiting desirable virus-resistant characteristics. Presentation(PDF Document)

Professor Matt Keeling, Mathematics Institute and School of Life Sciences

Professor Matt Keeling presented work on predicting the spread, control and containment of several high-risk pathogens including varroa mites, European foulbrood, small hive beetle and Asian hornet. He showed how mathematical modelling can be highly informative in understanding and providing policy advice on managing risks to bee populations. Presentation(PDF Document) Paper on Modelling the spread of American foulbrood in honeybees.

These talks were followed by discussion with leading experts in a number of organisations. Event summary(PDF Document) 



Honey bees
Varroa mites on bee pupa
Varroa mite