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J Anim Ecol. 2015 May;84(3):615-624. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12345. Epub 2015 Mar 3.

A sting in the spit: widespread cross-infection of multiple RNA viruses across wild and managed bees.

Author information

School of Biological Sciences, MBC, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, BT9 7BL, UK.
Institute of Biology, Free University Berlin, Schwendenerstr. 1, 14195, Berlin, Germany.
Department for Materials and Environment, BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, Unter den Eichen 87, 12205, Berlin, Germany.
School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, TW20 OEX, UK.
IST Austria (Institute of Science and Technology Austria), 3400, Klosterneuburg, Austria.
Institute for Biology, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Hoher Weg 8, 06120, Halle (Saale), Germany.
German Centre for integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103, Leipzig, Germany.


Declining populations of bee pollinators are a cause of concern, with major repercussions for biodiversity loss and food security. RNA viruses associated with honeybees represent a potential threat to other insect pollinators, but the extent of this threat is poorly understood. This study aims to attain a detailed understanding of the current and ongoing risk of emerging infectious disease (EID) transmission between managed and wild pollinator species across a wide range of RNA viruses. Within a structured large-scale national survey across 26 independent sites, we quantify the prevalence and pathogen loads of multiple RNA viruses in co-occurring managed honeybee (Apis mellifera) and wild bumblebee (Bombus spp.) populations. We then construct models that compare virus prevalence between wild and managed pollinators. Multiple RNA viruses associated with honeybees are widespread in sympatric wild bumblebee populations. Virus prevalence in honeybees is a significant predictor of virus prevalence in bumblebees, but we remain cautious in speculating over the principle direction of pathogen transmission. We demonstrate species-specific differences in prevalence, indicating significant variation in disease susceptibility or tolerance. Pathogen loads within individual bumblebees may be high and in the case of at least one RNA virus, prevalence is higher in wild bumblebees than in managed honeybee populations. Our findings indicate widespread transmission of RNA viruses between managed and wild bee pollinators, pointing to an interconnected network of potential disease pressures within and among pollinator species. In the context of the biodiversity crisis, our study emphasizes the importance of targeting a wide range of pathogens and defining host associations when considering potential drivers of population decline.


Apis; Bombus; decline; pathogen; spillover

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