Featured research (5)

Deformed wing virus (DWV) is an emerging honeybee pathogen that has appeared across the globe in the past 40 years. When transmitted by the parasitic varroa mite, it has been associated with the collapse of millions of colonies throughout the Northern Hemisphere. However, despite the presence of the mite in the Southern Hemisphere, infested colonies survive. This study investigated the prevalence of DWV genotypes A, B and C along with their viral loads in South Africa and compared the findings with recent data from Brazil, the UK and the USA. We found that DWV-B was the most prevalent genotype throughout South Africa, although the total DWV viral load was significantly lower (2.8E+07) than found in the Northern Hemisphere (2.8E+07 vs. 2.7E+10, p > 0.00001) and not significantly different to that found in Brazil (5E+06, p = 0.13). The differences in viral load can be explained by the mite resistance in Brazil and South Africa, since mite-infested cells containing high viral loads are removed by the bees, thus lowering the colony's viral burden. This behaviour is much less developed in the vast majority of honeybees in the Northern Hemisphere.
It is well established that many ant species have evolved qualitatively distinct species-specific chemical profile that are stable over large geographical distances. Within these species profiles quantitative variations in the chemical profile allows distinct colony-specific odours to arise (chemotypes) that are shared by all colony members. This help maintains social cohesion, including defence of their colonies against all intruders, including con-specifics. How these colony -level chemotypes are maintained among nest-mates has long been debated. The two main theories are; each ant is able to biochemically adjust its chemical profile to ‘match’ that of its nest-mates and or the queen, or all nest-mates share their individually generated chemical profile via trophollaxis resulting in an average nest-mate profile. This ‘mixing’ idea is better known as the Gestalt model. Unfortunately, it has been very difficult to experimentally test these two ideas in a single experimental design. However, it is now possible using the ant Formica exsecta because the compounds used in nest-mate recognition compounds are known. We demonstrate that workers adjust their profile to ‘match’ the dominant chemical profile within that colony, hence maintaining the colony-specific chemotype and indicates that a ‘gestalt’ mechanism, i.e. profile mixing, plays no or only a minor role.
The strong association between Varroa destructor, deformed wing virus (DWV), and high overwintering colony losses (OCL) of honey bees is well established. Three DWV master variants (DWV-A,-B, and-C) have been described, and their role in colony mortality remains an open question. Therefore, the aim of this study is to investigate the seasonal prevalence, viral load, and changing distribution of the three DWV master variants within honey bee colonies from England, Wales, and 32 states across the United States. Here, we report that in 2016, DWV-B was prevalent (100%, n = 249) and dominant (95%) in England and Wales, compared to the US. (56%, n = 217 and 23%, respectively), where DWV-A was prevalent (83%, n = 217) and dominant (63%). DWV-C was regularly detected in low viral loads (<1 × 10 7 genome equivalents per bee) and at lower prevalence (58% in England and Wales, n = 203, and 14% across the United States, n = 124) compared to DWV-A and-B. DWV-B prevalence and dominance in England and Wales coincided with low OCL (6%). Meanwhile, a 60% loss was reported by participating U.S. beekeepers. In the United States, DWV-A prevalence (89%, n = 18) and viral load were significantly (p = 0.002) higher (1 × 10 8-1 × 10 11) in colonies that died when compared to the surviving colonies (49% (n = 27), 1 × 10 6-1 × 10 10). DWV-B had low prevalence (56%, n = 18) in the colonies that died with viral loads of <1 × 10 10. However, DWV-B was routinely detected in high viral loads (>1 × 10 10) in surviving colonies from all sample locations, providing further supporting evidence of DWV-A exhibiting increased virulence over DWV-B at the colony level.
Deformed wing virus (DWV) is the most abundant viral pathogen of honey bees and has been associated with large-scale colony losses. DWV and other bee-associated RNA viruses are generalists capable of infecting diverse hosts. Here, we used RNAseq analysis to test the hypothesis that due to the frequency of interactions, a range of apiary pest species would become infected with DWV and/or other honey bee-associated viruses. We confirmed that DWV-A was the most prevalent virus in the apiary, with genetically similar sequences circulating in the apiary pests, suggesting frequent inter-species transmission. In addition, different proportions of the three DWV master variants as indicated by BLAST analysis and genome coverage plots revealed interesting DWV-species groupings. We also observed that new genomic recombinants were formed by the DWV master variants, which are likely adapted to replicate in different host species. Species groupings also applied when considering other viruses, many of which were widespread in the apiaries. In social wasps, samples were grouped further by site, which potentially also influenced viral load. Thus, the apiary invertebrate community has the potential to act as reservoirs of honey bee-associated viruses, highlighting the importance of considering the wider community in the apiary when considering honey bee health.
The global spread of the parasitic Varroa mite has introduced a new bee to the bee horizontal transmission route for several RNA viruses that bypasses existing barriers in honey bees. From among these viruses, deformed wing virus (DWV) is now among the most widespread insect pathogens in the world. Brazilian stingless bees are a diverse group often managed in close proximity to honey bees. Therefore, we investigated the prevalence and load of DWV in 21 stingless bee (Melipona subnitida) and 26 honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies from Brazil. DWV was detected in all colonies with DWV-A and DWV-C dominating in M. subnitida, while DWV-A dominated in A. mellifera. Average total viral loads per bee were 8.8E+07 and 6.3E+07 in M. subnitida and A. mellifera, respectively, which are much lower than DWV levels (>1E+10) found in honey bees in the northern hemisphere. In colonies introduced 30 years ago to the remote island of Fernando de Noronha, the DWV load was low (<1E+03) in honey bees but we detected higher loads (1.6E+08) in all M. subnitida colonies on the island. This may suggest that minimal, if any, viral transmission of DWV from stingless bees to honey bees has occurred on this island. Furthermore, the ubiquitous presence of the DWV-C variant in M. subnitida colonies, and its rarity in A. mellifera, may again suggest that limited viral exchange between these two species is occurring.

Lab head

Stephen J Martin
  • Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre (EER)
About Stephen J Martin
  • Stephen J Martin currently works at the School of Environment and Life Sciences, University of Salford. Stephen does research in the causes behind honey bee losses and chemical recognition in social insects.

Members (3)

Laura E Brettell
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Jessica Kevill
  • Bangor University
Flaviane Santos Souza
  • Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia
Ricarda Kather
Ricarda Kather
  • Not confirmed yet