Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: IMPROVE NUTRITION FOR HONEY BEE COLONIES TO STIMULATE POPULATION GROWTH, INCREASE QUEEN QUALITY, AND REDUCE THE IMPACT OF VARROA MITES

Location: Honey Bee Research

Title: An emerging paradigm of colony health: Microbial balance of the honey bee and hive (Apis mellifera)

Authors
item Anderson, Kirk
item Eckholm, B. -
item Mott, B. -
item Sheehan, T. -
item Degrandi-Hoffman, Gloria

Submitted to: Insectes Sociaux
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 9, 2011
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
Citation: Anderson, K.E., Eckholm, B., Mott, B.M., Sheehan, T.H., Hoffman, G.D. 2011. An emerging paradigm of colony health: Microbial balance of the honey bee and hive (Apis mellifera). Insectes Sociaux. 58:431-444. DOI 10.1007/s00040-011-0194-6.

Interpretive Summary: Microorganisms living within cells or guts have influenced the evolution larger complex organisms, including insects. Among the social insects, many are best characterized as complex extended organisms wherein social behaviors, group generated physiology and bacteria in the hive and gut environments contribute to colony nutrition and pathogen defense. Like humans, some ants, termites and many bee species fill their living quarters with nutrient rich food, frequent areas filled with microorganisms, and regulate nest humidity and temperature; conditions that promote the growth and transmission of pathogens. Both the insect gut and the physical structure of the social insect nest harbor many different microorganisms that continually interact with one another and the local environment to influence overall colony health and efficiency. The development and maintenance of these microorganisms are largely unknown, as are the ways in which they contribute to honey bee nutrition, immunity and overall health. In this contribution, we argue that the honey bee Apis mellifera can serve to illustrate the general effect of microorganisms on nutrition and disease progression in other social organisms. A comprehensive understanding of social biology requires that bacteria in the gut and immediate environment be studied in an evolutionary and functional context that regards microorganisms as a vital system component. Recent increases in genetic information will promote a comprehensive approach to this problem, illustrating the impact of microorganisms in general, as well as the immediate challenges facing managed honey bees.

Technical Abstract: Symbiotic microbes have played a major role in the evolution of many eukaryotes including insects. Among the social insects, many are best characterized as extended superorganisms wherein social behaviors, group generated physiology and symbiotic microbes contribute to colony nutrition and pathogen defense. Like humans, some ants, termites and many bee species fill their living quarters with nutrient rich food, frequent a multitude of microbe dense niches, and regulate nest humidity and temperature; conditions that promote the growth and transmission of pathogens. Both the insect alimentary tract and the physical structure of the social insect nest harbor complex microbial communities that continually interact with one another and the local environment to influence overall colony health and efficiency. The development and maintenance of symbiotic microbial communities that compose extended superorganisms are largely unknown, as are the ways in which such communities contribute to nutrition, immunity and overall health. In this contribution, we argue that the honey bee Apis mellifera is an emerging model system to examine the effect of extended microbial communities on host nutrition and disease progression. A comprehensive understanding of social insect biology requires that associated microbiota be studied in an evolutionary and functional context that regards microorganisms as a vital system component. The recent Hymenoptera genome sequencing effort will promote a systems based approach to social insect symbioses, illustrating the ecological and evolutionary impact of social insect symbioses in general, as well as the immediate challenges facing managed honey bees.

Last Modified: 10/1/2014