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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Tucson, Arizona » Carl Hayden Bee Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #386799

Research Project: The Honey Bee Microbiome in Health and Disease

Location: Carl Hayden Bee Research Center

Title: Overwintering honey bee colonies: Effect of worker age and climate on the Hindgut Microbiota

item MAES, P.W. - University Of Arizona
item FLOYD, AMY - Former ARS Employee
item Mott, Brendon
item Anderson, Kirk

Submitted to: Insects
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/2/2021
Publication Date: 3/5/2021
Citation: Maes, P., Floyd, A., Mott, B.M., Anderson, K.E. 2021. Overwintering honey bee colonies: Effect of worker age and climate on the Hindgut Microbiota. Insects. 12(3). Article 224.

Interpretive Summary: The honey bee is managed worldwide for use in pollinating crops and producing honey. Healthy overwintered colonies are paramount to meeting spring agricultural pollination demands, but beekeepers typically report high rates of winter colony loss. Although many factors affect winter survival, the gut microbiome, demonstrated to facilitate healthy metabolism and physiology, is understudied in this context. Here, we investigate how overwintering climate (warm versus cold) alters the honey bee gut microbiome. In both climates, the gut bacteria were generally stable during overwinter. However, microbiota changes in the warm climate suggest compromised host physiology. The abundance of fungus increased two-fold in the warm climate and was strongly associated with potentially harmful bacteria. The life expectancy of worker bees in warm climates was low compared to that known for cold climates. Our results indicate that colony loss in warm climates is associated with shortened life expectancy of overwintering workers, and alterations in the gut microbiome. We suggest that overwintering in warm climates can worsen preexisting conditions of disease, parasites, and poor nutrition, increasing winter colony loss. Ultimately, our results provide new insights into overwintering honey bee management strategies.

Technical Abstract: Honey bee overwintering health is essential to meet the demands of spring pollination. Managed honey bee colonies are overwintered in a variety of climates, and increasing rates of winter colony loss have prompted investigations into overwintering management, including indoor climate controlled overwintering. Central to colony health, the worker hindgut gut microbiota has been largely ignored in this context. We sequenced the hindgut microbiota of overwintering workers from both a warm southern climate and controlled indoor cold climate. Congruently, we sampled a cohort of known chronological age to estimate worker longevity in southern climates, and assess age-associated changes in the core hindgut microbiota. We found that worker longevity over winter in southern climates was much lower than that recorded for northern climates. Workers showed decreased bacterial and fungal load with age, but the relative structure of the core hindgut microbiome remained stable. Compared to cold indoor wintering, collective microbiota changes in the southern outdoor climate suggest compromised host physiology. Fungal abundance increased by two orders of magnitude in southern climate hindguts and was positively correlated with non-core, likely opportunistic bacteria. Our results contribute to understanding overwintering honey bee biology and microbial ecology and provide insight into overwintering strategies.