Tracking Feral Bee Health

Most managed honey bee colonies cannot survive the winter without disease treatment, and even with an intensive management regime, beekeepers nationwide are losing on average 40% of their colonies. On the contrary, some feral (unmanaged) bee populations have been reported as stable through time despite the lack of beekeeper assistance, suggesting that these colonies may have adapted to be resilient to these multiple disease stressors. We study the levels of immune gene expression and loads of viral pathogens of feral and managed colonies to compare pathogen dynamics and disease tolerance between these groups. By identifying feral colonies with stronger immune systems, we are hoping to identify genetic stocks of locally adapted bees that could be used for breeding programs. Funded by USDA.

Disease Ecology in Agroecosystems

Flowers can serve as hubs of pathogen transmission between pollinators. In agroecosystems where floral resources are limited, the potential risk of pathogen transmission between managed and wild pollinators increases. We are studying the pathogen communities (viruses, bacterias, and eukaryotes) of bee pollinators in Cucurbita cropping systems. Our goal is to understand the role of bee abundance and floral diversity in the disease dynamics of pollinators in agroecosystems.

Photo by Tomas Andres

Thermal stress and pathogen trade-offs

With increasing ambient temperatures globally, organisms are experiencing more thermal stress (meaning that they are operating at temperatures that are closer to what they can tolerate). Higher energy expenditures regulating body temperature can result in decreased abilities to perform other functions such as tolerating pathogens. We are investigating the role of thermal stress on the intensity of diseases of bees across sites with different micro- and macro-climates.