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Parasites and pathogens at honey bee mating sites, and the implications for monitoring colony health

Western honey bees (Apis mellifera) are an insect species of high environmental, economic, and cultural importance due to their provision of pollination services to cultivated and native plants and production of honey. Rapid, international dispersal of the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, has played a central role on colony health. The host-parasite relationship between V. destructor and immature (brood) and adult worker honey bees has been researched extensively. However adult drone (male) honey bees and their relationship with V. destructor has been underexplored. I used a choice test to investigate V. destructor host preference between nurses, foragers, and drones. I investigated the prevalence and abundance of V. destructor and pathogens at drone congregation areas compared to apiaries to explore the role of drones and drone congregation areas in monitoring of pests and pathogens. Varroa destructor selected drones as hosts in equal proportion to foragers, suggesting that drones are important phoretic hosts for the dispersal of V. destructor. I found that there was a significant positive relationship between the V. destructor abundance at DCAs and the V. destructor abundance at the nearest apiary. There was also a significant positive relationship between the abundance of DWV in drones and the abundance of DWV in colonies the nearest apiary. The abundance of DWV was found to be correlated with the abundance of V. destructor, with more viral copies of DWV found in drones and colony bees that had higher infestations of V. destructor. These results support the potential of drones as agents of dispersal for V. destructor and highlights the opportunity that drone congregation areas present for population-scale monitoring of honey bee pests and pathogens.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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