Pollen is an essential component of bee diets, and rearing bumble bees (Bombus spp.) for commercial use necessitates feeding pollen in mass quantities. This pollen is collected from honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies because neither an artificial diet nor an economical, large-scale pollen collection process from flowers is available. The provenance of honey bee-collected pollen is often unknown, and in some cases has crossed international borders. Both deformed wing virus (DWV) and the fungal pathogen Ascosphaera apis (Claussen) Olive & Spiltoir (cause of chalkbrood disease); occur in honey bee-collected pollen, and infections have been observed in bumble bees. We used these pathogens as general surrogates for viruses and spore-forming fungal diseases to test the efficacy of 3 sterilization methods, and assessed whether treatment altered pollen quality for the bumble bee. Using honey bee-collected pollen spiked with known doses of DWV and A. apis, we compared gamma irradiation (GI), ozone fumigation (OZ), and ethylene oxide fumigation (EO) against an untreated positive control and a negative control. Following sterilization treatments, we tested A. apis spore viability, detected viral presence with PCR, and tested palatability to the bumble bee Bombus impatiens Cresson. We also measured bacterial growth from pollens treated with EO and GI. GI and EO outperformed OZ treatment in pathogen suppression. EO had the highest sterilizing properties under commercial conditions and retained palatability and supported bee development better than other treatments. These results suggest that EO sterilization reduces pathogen risks while retaining pollen quality as a food source for rearing bumble bees.
Keywords: chalkbrood; deformed wing virus; ethylene oxide; irradiation; ozone.
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