The potential impact of pathogens on honey bee, Apis mellifera L., colonies and possibilities for their control
Excessive honey bee colony losses all over the world are believed to be caused by multiple stressors. In this thesis, I characterized and quantified pathogen levels in honey bee colonies, studied their interactions with each other and with their associated parasite vectors, examined factors that influence their combined impacts on honey bees and developed methods to manage honey bee viruses so that colony losses can be minimized. My baseline study of virus prevalence and concentration in healthy and unhealthy (showing visible signs of disease) colonies in Canada showed that seven economically important viruses (DWV, BQCV, IAPV, KBV, SBV, ABPV, and CBPV) were all widely distributed in Canada. Differences in concentration and prevalence of some viruses were found between unhealthy and healthy colonies but these differences may have been due in part to seasonal or regional effects. Studies of the impact of viruses on worker bee populations over winter showed different factors were correlated with bee loss in different environments. Spring concentrations of DWV and mean abundance of Varroa (Varroa destructor) were positively correlated with bee loss and negatively correlated with spring population size in outdoor-wintered colonies. Fall concentration of IAPV was negatively correlated with spring population size of colonies in indoor-wintering environments but not in outdoor-environments. My study showed that it is important to consider location of sampling when associating pathogen loads with bee loss with Nosema and BQCV. Seasonal patterns of parasites and pathogens were characterized for each wintering methods (indoor and outdoor). My results revealed lower ABPV and Nosema ceranae prevalence and lower DWV concentration in genetically diverse than genetically similar colonies. I showed that within colony genetic diversity may be an important evolutionary adaptation to allow honey bees to defend against a wide range of diseases. In laboratory studies, I showed that feeding DWV to larvae in the absence of Varroa causes wing deformity and decreased survival rates of adult bees relative to bees not fed DWV. Finally, I showed that RNA silencing can be used to reduce DWV concentrations in immature and adult bees, reduce wing deformity in emerging adults, and increase their longevity relative to controls.