Pathogens – A New Threat to Wild Pollinators

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A New Threat to Wild Pollinators

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the declining population of the Earth’s pollinators, and the impact this will have on human welfare, due to depleting ecosystem robustness. A pollinator is defined below:

A pollinator is the agent that moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization or syngamy of the female gamete in the ovule of the flower by the male gamete from the pollen Grain. Though the terms are sometimes confused, a pollinator is different from a pollenizer, which is a plant that is a source of pollen for the pollination process. Examples are insects and birds that pollinate plants ~ biology-online.org

Courtesy Flickr
Courtesy Flickr

 


The declining population of these vital members of our eco-chain are mostly due to habitat loss and fragmentation, intense levels of agriculture, the changing climate, pesticides and now we are finding another threat to their survival.

As humans are beginning to farm pollinators, a process involving intensively managing populations of honey bees in particular, a side effect is an increasing number of new infectious diseases emerging. These are seriously impacting the managed and wild species of pollinators.

The wild bee communities are particularly at risk as they are not able to evolve quickly enough to develop a resistance to these viruses. This is a real worry for our planet as we rely on pollinators for our agricultural systems and the healthy function of our ecosystem. Some estimates on the value of the services provided by pollinators take it as high as 153 billion Euros per year.

Courtesy Flickr
Courtesy Flickr

While the majority of research has concentrated on honeybees, data is showing that many of the viruses can also cross over to some bumblebee, solitary bee, wasp, ant and hoverfly species.

Honeybees are managed in most densely populated areas across the globe and the pathogens therefore have the potential to spread worldwide, giving great opportunity for the viruses to spread across species. This is particularly true with pathogens that can be transmitted indirectly, e.g. food-borne, faecal-borne and vector borne (i.e. via a bite from an infected species).

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