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Irish and US researchers teaming up to help save bees

More than half of Ireland’s bee species have experienced substantial declines since the 1980s.

shutterstock_1099143950 Source: Shutterstock/Barbi Hofer

ATHLONE INSTITUTE OF Technology (AIT) has joined forces with the University of Minnesota to conduct research into the wellbeing of honeybees and bumblebees.

Professor Neil Rowan, Director of the Bioscience Research Institute at AIT, said the research could be “potentially groundbreaking” in terms of tackling diseases that affect the bee population.

Rowan will work with Dr Michael Goblirsch, a leading researcher from the University of Minnesota, and others to investigate new technologies which aim to tackle complex parasites and viruses.

Goblirsch noted that 87 out of the main 124 crops used directly for human consumption “require or benefit from animal pollination”.

He said “pollinator services” contribute €153 billion and €54 million to the global and Irish economies each year respectively.

Food security threatened 

“Unfortunately, many managed and wild bee species are in such severe decline that food security is being threatened worldwide.

“More than half of Ireland’s bee species have experienced substantial declines since the 1980s so this issue is of great national concern, evidenced by the recent publication of the All Ireland Pollinator Plan. Over 90% of our habits in Ireland are in decline,” he stated.

bees Professor Neil Rowan (left) in his laboratory at AIT with former MSc student John Naughton who completed research into technologies which kill parasites that affect bumblebees. Source: AIT

Goblirsch said that a critical contributing factor to pollinator decline is an increase in the spread of a broad range of parasites, including mites, bacteria, fungi and viruses.

“This is an area our collaborative research will seek to address,” he stated.

“This project will not only create a critical pool of highly trained scientists in these cross-cutting areas, but it will yield applied knowledge and technologies that will be complimentary of existing approaches and interest to all those working with bees,” Rowan added.

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Órla Ryan

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