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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Tucson, Arizona » Carl Hayden Bee Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #314525

Title: Nutrition, immunity and viral infections in honey bees

item DeGrandi-Hoffman, Gloria
item Chen, Yanping - Judy

Submitted to: Current Opinion in Insect Science
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/13/2015
Publication Date: 8/1/2015
Citation: Hoffman, G.D., Chen, Y. 2015. Nutrition, immunity and viral infections in honey bees. Current Opinion in Insect Science. 10:170-176.

Interpretive Summary: Honey bees and other eusocial insects comprise more than half of the insect biomass in the world making them one of the most ecologically successful insect groups. Contributing to this success is the coordination of activities among members of a nest. However, the crowded conditions in a colony, high concentrations of resources and periods of confinement increase the risk of disease transmission and epidemics. Honey bees make great energetic and physiological investments in immunity to mitigate the risks of disease that accompany social living. Therefore, nutrition is a fundamental component for preventing disease outbreaks in colonies. Viruses often are present in bees and usually persist as covert asymptomatic infections. However, under stress virus levels can increase and spread so that colonies die. A common stress that leads to colony loss from viral infections is Varroa mites. These parasites can transmit virus and compromise host immunity. When Varroa are present, the relationship between nutrition and immunity is compromised. Whether optimizing nutrition can reduce Varroa reproductive success and virus transmission is not known. However, if nutrition affects either of these factors, then the relationship between nutrition and immunity could be re-established even when Varroa are present.

Technical Abstract: Honey bees can be infected with viruses that can spread rapidly in colonies. Here we discuss how honey bees decrease the risk of disease outbreaks by a combination of behaviors (social immunity) and individual immunity. The effectiveness of both social and individual immunity relies on nutrition. However, the relationship between nutrition and immune function is compromised when bees are parasitized by Varroa mites because these parasites transmit viruses and suppress individual immune function. We discuss the limitations of nutrition on insuring colony health when Varroa mites are present, and suggest future areas of research that might provide information to re-establish the nutrition-immunity relationship.