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The potential for parasite spill-back from commercial bumblebee colonies: a neglected threat to wild bees?


ABSTRACT: Commercially-reared bumblebee colonies provide pollination services to numerous crop species globally. These colonies may harbour parasites which can spill-over to wild bee species. However, the potential for parasites to spread from wild to commercial bumblebees, which could then lead to parasite spill-back, is poorly understood. To investigate this, parasite-free commercial Bombus terrestris audax colonies, which are used commercially for strawberry pollination, were placed into seasonal strawberry crops for either 6- or 8-week blocks across two key time periods, early spring and early summer. Bumblebees were removed from colonies weekly and screened for the presence of parasites. In the early spring placement, only one parasite, the highly virulent neogregarine Apicystis bombi, was detected at a low prevalence (0.46% across all bees screened). In contrast, all colonies placed in the crop in the early summer became infected. A trypanosome, Crithidia bombi, and A. bombi were the most prevalent parasites across all samples, reaching peak prevalence in screened bees of 39.39% and 18.18% respectively at the end of the experimental period. The prevalence of A. bombi was greater than most UK records from wild bumblebees, suggesting that commercial colonies could enhance levels of A. bombi infection in wild bees through spill-back. Studies on larger geographical scales with different commercial colony densities are required to fully assess spill-back risk. However, seasonal management, to minimise spill-back opportunities, and treatment of commercial colonies to prevent infection, could be implemented to manage the potential risks of parasite spill-back to wild bees. Implications for insect conservation Our results show that commercial bumblebee populations do pick up infections, most likely from wild bees, and that these infections can reach prevalences where they may pose a threat to wild bees via parasite spill-back. More research is required to clarify the extent of this potential threat.

Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10841-021-00322-x.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC8550768 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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