Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Mite Viruses Behind Bee Colony Collapse

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Honeybee colonies around the world are dying at alarming rates, and the Varroa mite is thought to be one of the main stressors reducing bee fitness.

As they feed on the blood of pupae and adult bees, Varroa can transmit several honeybee viruses with high efficiency. Uncontrolled Varroa infestation can thereby cause an accelerating virus epidemic that can destroy a bee colony within 2–3 years.

Now a study by University of Otago PhD student Fanny Mondet, published in PLOS Pathogens, has examined the recent invasion of New Zealand by Varroa, which was first detected on the North Island in 2001 and was still expanding south into Varroa-free areas of the country when the study took place.

Mondet monitored the first stages of the Varroa infestation and its consequences for bees and bee viruses, and found that the arrival of Varroa dramatically changed the viral landscape within New Zealand’s honeybee colonies. Each of seven different virus species examined in detail responded in a unique way to the arrival, establishment and persistence of the mite.

Deformed wing virus (DWV) was the virus most strongly affected by the spread of Varroa throughout New Zealand. DWV is thought to be a direct cause of Varroa-induced colony collapse, and was almost never seen in New Zealand’s bee colonies before the arrival of Varroa, or ahead of the expansion zone after...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.