Honey bees collect and apply plant resins to the interior of their nest cavity, in order to form a layer around the nest cavity called a propolis envelope. Propolis displays antimicrobial activity against honey bee pathogens, but the effect of propolis on the honey bee microbiome is unknown. Honey bees do not intentionally consume propolis, but they do manipulate propolis with their mouthparts. Because honey bee mouthparts are used for collecting and storing nectar and pollen, grooming and trophallaxis between adults, feeding larvae, and cleaning the colony, they are an important interface between the bees' external and internal environments and serve as a transmission route for core gut bacteria and pathogens alike. We hypothesized that the antimicrobial activity of an experimentally applied propolis envelope would influence the bacterial diversity and abundance of the worker mouthpart microbiome. The results revealed that the mouthparts of worker bees in colonies with a propolis envelope exhibited a significantly lower bacterial diversity and significantly higher bacterial abundance compared to the mouthparts of bees in colonies without a propolis envelope. Based on the taxonomic results, the propolis envelope appeared to reduce pathogenic or opportunistic microbes and promote the proliferation of putatively beneficial microbes on the honey bee mouthparts, thus reinforcing the core microbiome of the mouthpart niche.
Keywords: antimicrobial resins; microbiome; mouthpart bacteria; mouthparts; propolis; social immunity.