Honey bee losses in the US continue to be over 40% on average every year. In Pennsylvania, the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) reported that approximately 53% of colonies were lost during 2015-2016, placing PA as the fourth state with largest honey bee losses across the country. One of the major causes associated with these losses is the varroa mite that weakens bee immunity and vectors deadly viruses.
Studies of mite-resistant populations all over the world show that overtime feral colonies can evolve a balanced host-parasite relationship with varroa mites (Locke 2016). In the US, a recent study in North Carolina showed that unmanaged (feral) honey bees exhibit stronger immune systems than managed bees in the same region (Youngsteadt et al 2015). It has been shown that honey bees with stronger immune systems can directly interfere with mite fitness. Therefore, it may be possible that these feral honey bees could be a source of genetic material for mite-resistant bees in the US.
The Lopez-Uribe lab at Penn State is working on a project to understand differences in the immune systems of feral and managed honey bee colonies, Tracking Feral Bee Health. We are mapping feral colonies across Pennsylvania to analyze their immune systems and pathogen loads of unmanaged colonies. We have identified 31 feral colonies in 2017, even though 11 died before the spring.