The Status of Honey Bee Health in Italy: Results from the Nationwide Bee Monitoring Network

PLoS One. 2016 May 16;11(5):e0155411. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0155411. eCollection 2016.


In Italy a nation-wide monitoring network was established in 2009 in response to significant honey bee colony mortality reported during 2008. The network comprised of approximately 100 apiaries located across Italy. Colonies were sampled four times per year, in order to assess the health status and to collect samples for pathogen, chemical and pollen analyses. The prevalence of Nosema ceranae ranged, on average, from 47-69% in 2009 and from 30-60% in 2010, with strong seasonal variation. Virus prevalence was higher in 2010 than in 2009. The most widespread viruses were BQCV, DWV and SBV. The most frequent pesticides in all hive contents were organophosphates and pyrethroids such as coumaphos and tau-fluvalinate. Beeswax was the most frequently contaminated hive product, with 40% of samples positive and 13% having multiple residues, while 27% of bee-bread and 12% of honey bee samples were contaminated. Colony losses in 2009/10 were on average 19%, with no major differences between regions of Italy. In 2009, the presence of DWV in autumn was positively correlated with colony losses. Similarly, hive mortality was higher in BQCV infected colonies in the first and second visits of the year. In 2010, colony losses were significantly related to the presence of pesticides in honey bees during the second sampling period. Honey bee exposure to poisons in spring could have a negative impact at the colony level, contributing to increase colony mortality during the beekeeping season. In both 2009 and 2010, colony mortality rates were positively related to the percentage of agricultural land surrounding apiaries, supporting the importance of land use for honey bee health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beekeeping
  • Bees* / chemistry
  • Bees* / physiology
  • Ecological Parameter Monitoring
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Geography
  • Health Status*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Italy
  • Pesticides / analysis
  • Pollen
  • Population Surveillance


  • Pesticides

Grant support

The monitoring network activity has been funded by the Italian Agricultural Food and Forestry Policies Ministry with grant n. 19735/7303/08 of 29/12/2008, ApeNet: monitoraggio e ricerca in apicoltura (APENET: monitoring and research in apiculture). Ministero delle Politiche Agricole Alimentari e Forestali (Italy), [ ML FM CP] FERA employs authors Lynn Laurenson (LL) and Katherine Roberts (KR). FERA provided support in the form of salary for authors LL and KR, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and decision to publish the manuscript. The specific role of these authors is articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section. LL (FERA) was involved in virus analysis, preparation and revision of the manuscript and English revision; KR was involved in preparation and revision of the manuscript and English revision.