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Concept: Beekeeping


Recent declines in honey bee populations and increasing demand for insect-pollinated crops raise concerns about pollinator shortages. Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies. Such findings are of great concern given the large numbers and high levels of pesticides found in honey bee colonies. Thus it is crucial to determine how field-relevant combinations and loads of pesticides affect bee health. We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees' susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae. Our samples represent pollen collected by foragers for use by the colony, and do not necessarily indicate foragers' roles as pollinators. In blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon bees collected pollen almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers during our sampling. Thus more attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load. Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.

Concepts: Insect, Beekeeping, Pesticide, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Bumblebee, Pollinator


This study measured part of the in-hive pesticide exposome by analyzing residues from live in-hive bees, stored pollen, and wax in migratory colonies over time and compared exposure to colony health. We summarized the pesticide burden using three different additive methods: (1) the hazard quotient (HQ), an estimate of pesticide exposure risk, (2) the total number of pesticide residues, and (3) the number of relevant residues. Despite being simplistic, these models attempt to summarize potential risk from multiple contaminations in real-world contexts. Colonies performing pollination services were subject to increased pesticide exposure compared to honey-production and holding yards. We found clear links between an increase in the total number of products in wax and colony mortality. In particular, we found that fungicides with particular modes of action increased disproportionally in wax within colonies that died. The occurrence of queen events, a significant risk factor for colony health and productivity, was positively associated with all three proxies of pesticide exposure. While our exposome summation models do not fully capture the complexities of pesticide exposure, they nonetheless help elucidate their risks to colony health. Implementing and improving such models can help identify potential pesticide risks, permitting preventative actions to improve pollinator health.

Concepts: Insect, Risk, Risk management, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Pesticide, Pollination, Pollinator decline


Wild bees are highly valuable pollinators. Along with managed honey bees, they provide a critical ecosystem service by ensuring stable pollination to agriculture and wild plant communities. Increasing concern about the welfare of both wild and managed pollinators, however, has prompted recent calls for national evaluation and action. Here, for the first time to our knowledge, we assess the status and trends of wild bees and their potential impacts on pollination services across the coterminous United States. We use a spatial habitat model, national land-cover data, and carefully quantified expert knowledge to estimate wild bee abundance and associated uncertainty. Between 2008 and 2013, modeled bee abundance declined across 23% of US land area. This decline was generally associated with conversion of natural habitats to row crops. We identify 139 counties where low bee abundances correspond to large areas of pollinator-dependent crops. These areas of mismatch between supply (wild bee abundance) and demand (cultivated area) for pollination comprise 39% of the pollinator-dependent crop area in the United States. Further, we find that the crops most highly dependent on pollinators tend to experience more severe mismatches between declining supply and increasing demand. These trends, should they continue, may increase costs for US farmers and may even destabilize crop production over time. National assessments such as this can help focus both scientific and political efforts to understand and sustain wild bees. As new information becomes available, repeated assessments can update findings, revise priorities, and track progress toward sustainable management of our nation’s pollinators.

Concepts: Agriculture, Insect, United States, Beekeeping, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Alarm communication is a key adaptation that helps social groups resist predation and rally defenses. In Asia, the world’s largest hornet, Vespa mandarinia, and the smaller hornet, Vespa velutina, prey upon foragers and nests of the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana. We attacked foragers and colony nest entrances with these predators and provide the first evidence, in social insects, of an alarm signal that encodes graded danger and attack context. We show that, like Apis mellifera, A. cerana possesses a vibrational “stop signal,” which can be triggered by predator attacks upon foragers and inhibits waggle dancing. Large hornet attacks were more dangerous and resulted in higher bee mortality. Per attack at the colony level, large hornets elicited more stop signals than small hornets. Unexpectedly, stop signals elicited by large hornets (SS large hornet) had a significantly higher vibrational fundamental frequency than those elicited by small hornets (SS small hornet) and were more effective at inhibiting waggle dancing. Stop signals resulting from attacks upon the nest entrance (SS nest) were produced by foragers and guards and were significantly longer in pulse duration than stop signals elicited by attacks upon foragers (SS forager). Unlike SS forager, SS nest were targeted at dancing and non-dancing foragers and had the common effect, tuned to hornet threat level, of inhibiting bee departures from the safe interior of the nest. Meanwhile, nest defenders were triggered by the bee alarm pheromone and live hornet presence to heat-ball the hornet. In A. cerana, sophisticated recruitment communication that encodes food location, the waggle dance, is therefore matched with an inhibitory/alarm signal that encodes information about the context of danger and its threat level.

Concepts: Insect, Predation, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Apis cerana, Hornet, Asian giant hornet, European hornet


Recently, the widespread distribution of pesticides detected in the hive has raised serious concerns about pesticide exposure on honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) health. A larval rearing method was adapted to assess the chronic oral toxicity to honey bee larvae of the four most common pesticides detected in pollen and wax - fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil, and chloropyrifos - tested alone and in all combinations. All pesticides at hive-residue levels triggered a significant increase in larval mortality compared to untreated larvae by over two fold, with a strong increase after 3 days of exposure. Among these four pesticides, honey bee larvae were most sensitive to chlorothalonil compared to adults. Synergistic toxicity was observed in the binary mixture of chlorothalonil with fluvalinate at the concentrations of 34 mg/L and 3 mg/L, respectively; whereas, when diluted by 10 fold, the interaction switched to antagonism. Chlorothalonil at 34 mg/L was also found to synergize the miticide coumaphos at 8 mg/L. The addition of coumaphos significantly reduced the toxicity of the fluvalinate and chlorothalonil mixture, the only significant non-additive effect in all tested ternary mixtures. We also tested the common ‘inert’ ingredient N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone at seven concentrations, and documented its high toxicity to larval bees. We have shown that chronic dietary exposure to a fungicide, pesticide mixtures, and a formulation solvent have the potential to impact honey bee populations, and warrants further investigation. We suggest that pesticide mixtures in pollen be evaluated by adding their toxicities together, until complete data on interactions can be accumulated.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Pesticide, Bee, Apidae, Neurotoxicity, Stingless bee


Honey bee pollination is a key ecosystem service to nature and agriculture. However, biosafety research on genetically modified crops rarely considers effects on nurse bees from intact colonies, even though they receive and primarily process the largest amount of pollen. The objective of this study was to analyze the response of nurse bees and their gut bacteria to pollen from Bt maize expressing three different insecticidal Cry proteins (Cry1A.105, Cry2Ab2, and Cry3Bb1). Naturally Cry proteins are produced by bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis). Colonies of Apis mellifera carnica were kept during anthesis in flight cages on field plots with the Bt maize, two different conventionally bred maize varieties, and without cages, 1-km outside of the experimental maize field to allow ad libitum foraging to mixed pollen sources. During their 10-days life span, the consumption of Bt maize pollen had no effect on their survival rate, body weight and rates of pollen digestion compared to the conventional maize varieties. As indicated by ELISA-quantification of Cry1A.105 and Cry3Bb1, more than 98% of the recombinant proteins were degraded. Bacterial population sizes in the gut were not affected by the genetic modification. Bt-maize, conventional varieties and mixed pollen sources selected for significantly different bacterial communities which were, however, composed of the same dominant members, including Proteobacteria in the midgut and Lactobacillus sp. and Bifidobacterium sp. in the hindgut. Surprisingly, Cry proteins from natural sources, most likely B. thuringiensis, were detected in bees with no exposure to Bt maize. The natural occurrence of Cry proteins and the lack of detectable effects on nurse bees and their gut bacteria give no indication for harmful effects of this Bt maize on nurse honey bees.

Concepts: DNA, Bacteria, Gut flora, Insect, Escherichia coli, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Genetically modified food


Spray adjuvants are often applied to crops in conjunction with agricultural pesticides in order to boost the efficacy of the active ingredient(s). The adjuvants themselves are largely assumed to be biologically inert and are therefore subject to minimal scrutiny and toxicological testing by regulatory agencies. Honey bees are exposed to a wide array of pesticides as they conduct normal foraging operations, meaning that they are likely exposed to spray adjuvants as well. It was previously unknown whether these agrochemicals have any deleterious effects on honey bee behavior.

Concepts: Species, Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Apidae, Apiology, Bees and toxic chemicals


Hop (Humulus lupulus L.) beta acids (HBA) were tested for miticidal effects on varroa destructor Anderson and Trueman, a parasitic mite of the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.). When varroa were placed on bees that had topical applications of 1 % HBA, there was 100 % mite mortality. Bee mortality was unaffected. Cardboard strips saturated with HBA and placed in colonies resulted in mite drop that was significantly greater than in untreated hives. HBA was detected on about 60 % of the bees in colonies during the first 48 h after application. Mite drop in colonies lasted for about 7 days with the highest drop occurring in the first 2-3 days after treatment. There was a reduction in the percentages of bees with HBA and in the amounts on their bodies after 7 days. Bee and queen mortality in the colonies were not affected by HBA treatments. When cardboard strips saturated with HBA were put in packages of bees, more than 90 % of the mites were killed without an increase in bee mortality. HBA might have potential to control varroa when establishing colonies from packages or during broodless periods.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Mite, Varroa destructor, Humulus lupulus, Hops


The health of the honeybee and, indirectly, global crop production are threatened by several biotic and abiotic factors, which play a poorly defined role in the induction of widespread colony losses. Recent descriptive studies suggest that colony losses are often related to the interaction between pathogens and other stress factors, including parasites. Through an integrated analysis of the population and molecular changes associated with the collapse of honeybee colonies infested by the parasitic mite Varroa destructor, we show that this parasite can de-stabilise the within-host dynamics of Deformed wing virus (DWV), transforming a cryptic and vertically transmitted virus into a rapidly replicating killer, which attains lethal levels late in the season. The de-stabilisation of DWV infection is associated with an immunosuppression syndrome, characterized by a strong down-regulation of the transcription factor NF-κB. The centrality of NF-κB in host responses to a range of environmental challenges suggests that this transcription factor can act as a common currency underlying colony collapse that may be triggered by different causes. Our results offer an integrated account for the multifactorial origin of honeybee losses and a new framework for assessing, and possibly mitigating, the impact of environmental challenges on honeybee health.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Bacteria, Parasitism, Beekeeping, Biotic component, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus


Exclusion from a social group is an effective way to avoid parasite transmission. This type of social removal has also been proposed as a form of collective defense, or social immunity, in eusocial insect groups. If parasitic modification of host behavior is widespread in social insects, the underlying physiological and neuronal mechanisms remain to be investigated. We studied this phenomenon in honey bees parasitized by the mite Varroa destructor or microsporidia Nosema ceranae, which make bees leave the hive precociously. We characterized the chemical, behavioral and neurogenomic changes in parasitized bees, and compared the effects of both parasites.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bee, Bumblebee, Ant, Apidae, Hymenoptera