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Changing weather patterns caused by climate change may be driving disease outbreaks in honey bee colonies in Britain, a study published Tuesday by Scientific Reports found.

The prevalence of six important honey bee diseases in more than 300,000 colonies interacted in different ways with rainfall, temperature and wind, the data showed.

For example, the prevalence of the most severe disease of honey bees, caused by the Varroa mite, increased as climate temperatures increased but were reduced during heavy rainfall and wind.

Conversely, cases of another common honey bee disease, European Foulbrood, increased by about 1% for every millimeter of rainfall in the area around the affected colonies, they said.

“Our analysis clearly shows that the risk of a colony contracting one of the diseases we examined is influenced by the weather conditions experienced by that colony,” study co-author Ben Rowland said in a press release.

“Our work highlights some interesting contrasts — for example, rainfall can drive one disease to become more common whilst another will become rarer,” said Rowland, a doctoral student at Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences in England.

Honey bees play an important role in agriculture, generating honey, pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, propolis and venom for use in food and medicinal products, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

In addition, they serve as crop pollinators, an essential function in farming as it is vital for plant growth, the FDA says.

However, honey bee populations globally are on the decline, thanks in part to rising rates of bacterial diseases such as European Foulbrood, American Foulbrood, chronic bee paralysis, varroosis, chalkbrood and sacbrood, it says.

This has had an adverse affect on crop health and supplies of bee-generated products, according to the agency.

For this study, Rowland and his colleagues analyzed data collected from more than 320,000 visits to honey bee colonies in Britain made between 2006 and 2016.

They then compared rates of certain bee diseases in these colonies with changes in area climate during the same period, they said.

Collectively, cases of the six bee diseases more than tripled in Britain over the 10-year study period, the data showed.

Although the prevalence of chronic bee paralysis did not appear to be influenced by weather changes, climate affected the others, the researchers said.

Cases of varroosis increased with temperature rises, but declined in areas with more wind and rain, while sacbrood prevalence was augmented in areas with higher rainfall and winds, according to the researchers.

“We have long known that weather can influence the ability of honey bees to leave the hive and forage for food, but to better understand how our climate can influence honey bee disease is fascinating,” study co-author Giles Budge said in a press release.

“This new knowledge will help us predict how honey bee disease might be influenced by future climate change,” said Budge, who is leader of the Modelling Evidence and Policy Group at Newcastle University.


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