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Host brood traits, independent of adult behaviours, reduce Varroa destructor mite reproduction in resistant honeybee populations.

The ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor is an invasive species of Western honey bees (Apis mellifera) and the largest pathogenic threat to their health world-wide. Its successful invasion and expansion is related to its ability to exploit the worker brood for reproduction, which results in an exponential population growth rate in the new host. With invasion of the mite, wild honeybee populations have been nearly eradicated from Europe and North America, and the survival of managed honeybee populations relies on mite population control treatments. However, there are a few documented honeybee populations surviving extended periods without control treatments due to adapted host traits that directly impact Varroa mite fitness. The aim of this study was to investigate if Varroa mite reproductive success was affected by traits of adult bee behaviours or by traits of the worker brood, in three mite-resistant honey bee populations from Sweden, France and Norway. The mite's reproductive success was measured and compared in broods that were either exposed to, or excluded from, adult bee access. Mite-resistant bee populations were also compared with a local mite-susceptible population, as a control group. Our results show that mite reproductive success rates and mite fecundity in the three mite-resistant populations were significantly different from the control population, with the French and Swedish populations having significantly lower reproductive rates than the Norwegian population. When comparing mite reproduction in exposed or excluded brood treatments, no differences were observed, regardless of population. This result clearly demonstrates that Varroa mite reproductive success can be suppressed by traits of the brood, independent of adult worker bees.

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