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PLoS One. 2017 Jul 17;12(7):e0179535. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179535. eCollection 2017.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and bee age impact honey bee pathophysiology.

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Department of Entomology, Plant Science Building University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, United States of America.
Cooperative Extension Butte County, University of California Cooperative Extension, Oroville, California, United States of America.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America.
USDA-ARS, Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland, United States of America.
Research Unit in Epidemiology and Risk Analysis applied to Veterinary Sciences (UREAR-ULg), Fundamental and Applied Research for Animal and Health (FARAH) Center, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Liège, Liège, Sart-Tilman, Belgium.
USDA-ARS-PWA, Pollinating Insect-Biol., Mgmt. Syst.- Research Unit, Logan, Utah, United States of America and Department of Entomology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, United States of America.


Honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies continue to experience high annual losses that remain poorly explained. Numerous interacting factors have been linked to colony declines. Understanding the pathways linking pathophysiology with symptoms is an important step in understanding the mechanisms of disease. In this study we examined the specific pathologies associated with honey bees collected from colonies suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and compared these with bees collected from apparently healthy colonies. We identified a set of pathological physical characteristics that occurred at different rates in CCD diagnosed colonies prior to their collapse: rectum distension, Malpighian tubule iridescence, fecal matter consistency, rectal enteroliths (hard concretions), and venom sac color. The multiple differences in rectum symptomology in bees from CCD apiaries and colonies suggest effected bees had trouble regulating water. To ensure that pathologies we found associated with CCD were indeed pathologies and not due to normal changes in physical appearances that occur as an adult bee ages (CCD colonies are assumed to be composed mostly of young bees), we documented the changes in bees of different ages taken from healthy colonies. We found that young bees had much greater incidences of white nodules than older cohorts. Prevalent in newly-emerged bees, these white nodules or cellular encapsulations indicate an active immune response. Comparing the two sets of characteristics, we determined a subset of pathologies that reliably predict CCD status rather than bee age (fecal matter consistency, rectal distension size, rectal enteroliths and Malpighian tubule iridescence) and that may serve as biomarkers for colony health. In addition, these pathologies suggest that CCD bees are experiencing disrupted excretory physiology. Our identification of these symptoms is an important first step in understanding the physiological pathways that underlie CCD and factors impacting bee health.

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