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J Invertebr Pathol. 2010 Jan;103 Suppl 1:S62-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jip.2009.06.019. Epub 2009 Nov 11.

Socialized medicine: individual and communal disease barriers in honey bees.

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  • 1USDA-ARS Bee Research Lab, BARC-East Bldg. 476, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA.


Honey bees are attacked by numerous parasites and pathogens toward which they present a variety of individual and group-level defenses. In this review, we briefly introduce the many pathogens and parasites afflicting honey bees, highlighting the biology of specific taxonomic groups mainly as they relate to virulence and possible defenses. Second, we describe physiological, immunological, and behavioral responses of individual bees toward pathogens and parasites. Third, bees also show behavioral mechanisms for reducing the disease risk of their nestmates. Accordingly, we discuss the dynamics of hygienic behavior and other group-level behaviors that can limit disease. Finally, we conclude with several avenues of research that seem especially promising for understanding host-parasite relationships in bees and for developing breeding or management strategies for enhancing honey bee health. We discuss how human efforts to maintain healthy colonies intersect with similar efforts by the bees, and how bee management and breeding protocols can affect disease traits in the short and long term.

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