Honeybee Infection Model Helps Understand Spread Of Disease
September 16, 2013

New Model Helping To Fight Honeybee Population Decline

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Honeybees have faced plenty of devastation over the past decade, and scientists at the University of Warwick have modeled an outbreak of an infection that put a dent in the population back in 2010.

The team modeled the outbreak of bee infection in America and applied it to other honeybee diseases, including the European foulbrood and the Varroa parasite. This method allows scientists to simulate various disease control interventions to help measure their efficacy.

The team used two sets of data gathered during an outbreak of American foulbrood in Jersey in the summer of 2010. This gave the researchers some "snapshots" of the disease from which they attempted to reconstruct the entire epidemic. This is the first time a method like this had been applied to bee disease.

The Jersey data used in the study covered 450 honeybee hives, their locations and their owners. Using this data, the researchers built a computer simulation that modeled the speed at which the infection grew as well as how it spread.

“Honeybees are one of the most important bee species in the world in terms of their contribution to food production through pollination," Dr. Samik Datta of the WIDER group, based at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, said in a statement. "But in the past 20 years there has been a marked increase in the level of disease among bee populations. American foulbrood is an unusually virulent disease which can wipe out a hive within a few months. By understanding how it is spreads from hive to hive, we then have a good basis to formulate interventions. This is the first rigorous statistical analysis carried out on a honeybee disease epidemic that we are aware of."

According to the model, half of the 2010 Jersey infection spread was attributed to transmission by owners between their own hives. This study suggests that distance between colonies was another important factor in spreading the disease.

The model also simulated the impact of a variety of control strategies and found that measures taken by authorities in Jersey were the most effective. However, it showed that an earlier intervention would have made disease extinction more likely.

Researchers hope to expand their model to investigate the spread of European Foulbrood, which is a more common bee disease in the UK.

“Using just two snapshots of data we have been able to reconstruct this epidemic, and we are confident that our technique can be applied to a wide range of other outbreak scenarios," Datta, author of the paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society said.

Scientists pointed out at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) last week that there still is no cure for what is killing off honeybees. While some blame pesticides like neonicotinoids, the researchers said that no one is entirely sure what the cause of the honeybee population collapse is. However, models like the one Datta created could eventually help scientists pinpoint the problems related to colony collapse disorder (CCD).