What do hoverflies and honeybees have in common?

New study shows the fates of these pollinating insects may be closely linked.

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The dronefly, Eristalis tenax, was one of the the hoverfly species studied

The dronefly, Eristalis tenax, was one of the the hoverfly species studied © Frank Bienewald / LightRocket / Getty 

 

Researchers have found that hoverflies can be infected by at least three common diseases found in honeybees.

Four of the most common UK hoverfly species (Episyrphus balteatusPlatycheirus albimanusEristalis tenax, and Eristalis arbustorum) were the focus of the study in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire.

“Hoverflies and bees often share the same flowers and this is thought to be where virus transmission between species occurs,” says Dr Emily Bailes, research assistant at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

“This could tell us more about whether the hoverflies are also likely to be affected by these viruses, but also how the virus is moving about within the landscape.”

Hoverflies are very mobile insects which undertake annual migrations, and could be potentially spreading the diseases.

While infectious diseases are a key driver in honeybee population decline, it is unknown whether they have a detrimental effect on hoverflies.

“We have no idea whether the viruses are impacting the hoverflies or if the hoverflies are non-host vectors that are capable of moving the pathogens around the landscape without being harmed themselves,” says Kaitlin Deutsch, a PhD student at Cornell University.

Deutsch will be conducting further research to determine whether the viruses effect the longevity of hoverflies.

“Most people think of honeybees as the main pollinators of our crops and wildflowers,” adds Professor Owen Lewis from Oxford University. “However, wild insects such as hoverflies are hugely important too."

Read the full paper in Biology Letters.

 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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