Are Dispersal Mechanisms Changing the Host-Parasite Relationship and Increasing the Virulence of Varroa destructor (Mesostigmata: Varroidae) in Managed Honey Bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Colonies?

Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, Fabiana Ahumada, Henry Graham
Environmental Entomology 2017 August 1, 46 (4): 737-746
Varroa (Varroa destructor Anderson and Trueman) are a serious pest of European honey bees (Apis mellifera L.), and difficult to control in managed colonies. In our 11-mo longitudinal study, we applied multiple miticide treatments, yet mite numbers remained high and colony losses exceeded 55%. High mortality from varroa in managed apiaries is a departure from the effects of the mite in feral colonies where bees and varroa can coexist. Differences in mite survival strategies and dispersal mechanisms may be contributing factors. In feral colonies, mites can disperse through swarming. In managed apiaries, where swarming is reduced, mites disperse on foragers robbing or drifting from infested hives. Using a honey bee-varroa population model, we show that yearly swarming curtails varroa population growth, enabling colony survival for >5 yr. Without swarming, colonies collapsed by the third year. To disperse, varroa must attach to foragers that then enter other hives. We hypothesize that stress from parasitism and virus infection combined with effects that viruses have on cognitive function may contribute to forager drift and mite and virus dispersal. We also hypothesize that drifting foragers with mites can measurably increase mite populations. Simulations initialized with field data indicate that low levels of drifting foragers with mites can create sharp increases in mite populations in the fall and heavily infested colonies in the spring. We suggest new research directions to investigate factors leading to mite dispersal on foragers, and mite management strategies with consideration of varroa as a migratory pest.

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