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J Exp Biol. 2015 Nov;218(Pt 22):3689-99. doi: 10.1242/jeb.127324. Epub 2015 Oct 8.

Seasonal benefits of a natural propolis envelope to honey bee immunity and colony health.

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Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, 1980 Folwell Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA
Biology Department, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, 410 S. 3rd Street, River Falls, WI 54022, USA.
Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, 1980 Folwell Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA.


Honey bees, as social insects, rely on collective behavioral defenses that produce a colony-level immune phenotype, or social immunity, which in turn impacts the immune response of individuals. One behavioral defense is the collection and deposition of antimicrobial plant resins, or propolis, in the nest. We tested the effect of a naturally constructed propolis envelope within standard beekeeping equipment on the pathogen and parasite load of large field colonies, and on immune system activity, virus and storage protein levels of individual bees over the course of a year. The main effect of the propolis envelope was a decreased and more uniform baseline expression of immune genes in bees during summer and autumn months each year, compared with the immune activity in bees with no propolis envelope in the colony. The most important function of the propolis envelope may be to modulate costly immune system activity. As no differences were found in levels of bacteria, pathogens and parasites between the treatment groups, the propolis envelope may act directly on the immune system, reducing the bees' need to activate the physiologically costly production of humoral immune responses. Colonies with a natural propolis envelope had increased colony strength and vitellogenin levels after surviving the winter in one of the two years of the study, despite the fact that the biological activity of the propolis diminished over the winter. A natural propolis envelope acts as an important antimicrobial layer enshrouding the colony, benefiting individual immunity and ultimately colony health.


Antimicrobial peptides; Apis mellifera; Resin; Social immunity

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