More intensive beekeeping does not raise the risk of diseases that harm or kill the insects, new research suggests.
Intensive agriculture – where animals or plants are kept crowded together in very high densities – is thought to result in higher rates of disease spreading.
But researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of California, Berkeley found this is not the case for honey bees.
Their study modelled the spread of multiple honey bee diseases and found that crowding many colonies together was “unlikely to greatly increase disease prevalence.”
However, the research only applies to existing honey bee diseases – and the findings suggest intensive beekeeping could accelerate the spread of new diseases.
“Crowding of animals or crops – or people – into minimal space usually increases rates of disease spread,” said Lewis Bartlett, of the University of Exeter and Emory University.
“We carried out this study because beekeepers were worried about this – especially given the many threats currently causing the decline of bees,” Bartlett says.
“To our surprise, our results show it’s very unlikely that crowding of honey bees meaningfully aids the spread of diseases that significantly harm honey bees.”
Bartlett says honey bees live in close proximity to each other naturally, and the models show that adding more bees does little to raise disease risk.
“So, beekeepers don’t need to worry about how many bees they keep together as long as there is enough food for them,” he says
“The key is not whether they encounter a disease – it’s whether they are fit and healthy enough to fight it off.”
Although the research shows intensification of beekeeping does not boost diseases among honeybees, Bartlett points out that intensive agriculture – especially use of pesticides and destruction of habitats – harms bee species including honey bees.
P.S. Have you seen our newest column in Bee Culture? It’s called ALL AROUND THE BEEYARD. Simply put, it’s a page of good ideas sent in by readers to make life in bees faster, simpler, easier, cheaper and better. Good ideas home grown and shared by those who saw a good idea. If you have a good idea you’d like to share, give us a paragraph or two on what it is, and a drawing or photo of what it looks like if that is needed to better share the idea. Send it in an email to email@example.com, with All Around in the subject line. Best of the month wins $100.00. The others get a free 1 year subscription. How cool is that?