Host adaptations reduce the reproductive success of Varroa destructor in two distinct European honey bee populations

September 21, 2012

Editor’s Note:  The paper published in Ecology and Evolution, “Host adaptations reduce the reproductive success of Varroa destructor in two distinct European honey bee populations” by Barbara Locke, Yves Le Conte, Didier Crauser & Ingemar Fries is attached here


Honey bee societies (Apis mellifera), the  ectoparasitic mite  Varroa destructor, and honey bee viruses that are vectored by the mite, form a complex system of host–parasite interactions. Coevolution by natural selection in this system has been hindered for European honey bee hosts since apicultural practices remove the mite and consequently the selective pressures required for such a process. An increas- ing mite population means increasing transmission opportunities for viruses that can quickly develop into severe infections, killing a bee colony. Remarkably, a few subpopulations in Europe have survived mite infestation for extended periods of over 10 years without management by beekeepers and offer the possibility to study their natural host–parasite coevolution. Our study shows that two of these “nat- ural” honey bee populations, in Avignon, France and Gotland, Sweden, have in fact evolved resistant traits that reduce the fitness of the mite (measured as the re- productive success), thereby reducing the parasitic load within the colony to evade the development of overt viral infections. Mite reproductive success was reduced by about 30% in both populations. Detailed examinations of mite reproductive parameters suggest these geographically and genetically distinct populations favor different mechanisms of resistance, even though they have experienced similar se- lection pressures of mite infestation. Compared to unrelated control colonies in the same location, mites in the Avignon  population  had high levels of infertil- ity while in Gotland there was a higher proportions  of mites that delayed initiation of egg-laying. Possible explanations for the observed rapid coevolution are discussed.

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