Varroa & Viruses: It’s What’s Killing Bees

February 5, 2016

Editor’s Note: The University of Sheffield’s press release, “Honeybees under threat from virus spread by humans,” is available here.

From: Science Magazine | AAAS

Deformed wing virus is a recent global epidemic in honeybees driven by Varroa mites

Varroa-vectored virus pandemic

Bees are facing several threats that are causing population collapses. Wilfert et al. found that European honey bees are the primary source of deformed wing virus (DWV) (see the Perspective by Villalobos). However, paradoxically, transmission between bees is inefficient. It seems that parasitic mites can facilitate virus transmission. European honeybees acquired the rapidly spreading Varroa mite from Asian honey bees, possibly via the commercial exchange of queens. Not only do bees suffer direct damage from the mites, but the bees are also efficiently inoculated with DWV.

Science, this issue p. 594; see also p. 554


Deformed wing virus (DWV) and its vector, the mite Varroa destructor, are a major threat to the world’s honeybees. Although the impact of Varroa on colony-level DWV epidemiology is evident, we have little understanding of wider DWV epidemiology and the role that Varroa has played in its global spread. A phylogeographic analysis shows that DWV is globally distributed in honeybees, having recently spread from a common source, the European honeybee Apis mellifera. DWV exhibits epidemic growth and transmission that is predominantly mediated by European and North American honeybee populations and driven by trade and movement of honeybee colonies. DWV is now an important reemerging pathogen of honeybees, which are undergoing a worldwide manmade epidemic fueled by the direct transmission route that the Varroa mite provides.

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