How Honey Bee Colonies Survive in the Wild: Testing the Importance of Small Nests and Frequent Swarming

PLoS One. 2016 Mar 11;11(3):e0150362. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150362. eCollection 2016.

Abstract

The ectoparasitic mite, Varroa destructor, and the viruses that it transmits, kill the colonies of European honey bees (Apis mellifera) kept by beekeepers unless the bees are treated with miticides. Nevertheless, there exist populations of wild colonies of European honey bees that are persisting without being treated with miticides. We hypothesized that the persistence of these wild colonies is due in part to their habits of nesting in small cavities and swarming frequently. We tested this hypothesis by establishing two groups of colonies living either in small hives (42 L) without swarm-control treatments or in large hives (up to 168 L) with swarm-control treatments. We followed the colonies for two years and compared the two groups with respect to swarming frequency, Varroa infesttion rate, disease incidence, and colony survival. Colonies in small hives swarmed more often, had lower Varroa infestation rates, had less disease, and had higher survival compared to colonies in large hives. These results indicate that the smaller nest cavities and more frequent swarming of wild colonies contribute to their persistence without mite treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / growth & development*
  • Bees / parasitology
  • Bees / physiology
  • Longevity
  • Nesting Behavior*
  • Population Density

Grant support

This study was supported by the Eastern Apiculture Society of North America, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Project No. NYC-191400), and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (DGE-1144153) to MLS. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.