Persistent effects of management history on honeybee colony virus abundances

Journal of Invertebrate Pathology

Packages of honey bees for sale. Photo credit: Dr. Lewis Bartlett

Corresponding Author: Lewis Bartlett,

Summary by Ethan Hackmeyer

Infectious diseases affecting honey bees have recently been more heavily researched due to the decline in honey bee populations over the past few decades. Much of this research has focused on how diseases naturally infect honey bee populations, and their detrimental effects once introduced. More recently, researchers have been interested in how human management of honey bee colonies shapes disease dynamics. A new study led by CEID member Lewis Bartlett has revealed that the level of human management with a colony correlates to the relative presence of different diseases within the colony.

In their study, researchers categorized honeybee colonies into three groups based on management history:  feral, traditional low-intensity management, and high-intensity industrial management. Feral colonies were those recovered from wilderness areas, traditional colonies were those managed using old-school hobbyist methods, and industrial colonies were treated with practices usually seen in large-scale agriculture. Fourteen colonies of each group were selected, and placed into standard 10-frame hives. To ensure that there was no possibility of disease spillover between the groups, which could potentially compromise the study, the different groups of colonies  were all placed at a minimum of five kilometers away from each other and any other known apiaries.  Over the course of a year, each group of colonies was managed under the same conditions, and observed to see which diseases were prevalent, with significant differences being discovered.

Diseases such as acute paralysis virus complex and chronic paralysis virus were found at lower levels in feral bees compared to the other two groups, while Lake Sinai viruses and sacbrood virus were found in relatively elevated levels among the feral bees. This suggests that management strategies have a lasting impact on the diseases within a hive. Notably, the industrial hives were found to have higher viral abundance across every category than the traditionally managed hives, additionally suggesting that traditional management techniques may bring about healthier hives than the industrialized ones.

Though this study helps solidify the idea that high-intensity apiculture is less than ideal for honey bee health, other questions on the topic are now apparent. Through additional studies involving more variety in source management histories, as well as differing interaction levels with other hives, it is speculated the mechanisms that underpin the discovered differences between management strategies can be further determined.

Bartlett, L.J., et al. (2020). Persistent effects of management history on honeybee colony virus abundances. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 179.