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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Using Citizen Science to Scout Honey Bee Colonies That Naturally Survive Varroa destructor Infestations

Moro, Arrigo; Beaurepaire, Alexis; Dall'Olio, Raffaele; Rogenstein, Steve; Blacquiere, Tjeerd; Dahle, Bjorn; de Miranda, Joachim R.; Dietemann, Vincent; Locke, Barbara; Licon Luna, Rosa Maria; Le Conte, Yves; Neumann, Peter


Simple Summary Citizen Science is a valuable resource that can substantially contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. However, its use in honey bee research has remained minimal. The Survivors Task Force of the COLOSS association created and promoted an online surveying tool with the aim of identifying potential cases of Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, populations that are surviving infestations with ectoparasitic mites Varroa destructor without control measures by beekeepers. The reports suggest that there could be twice as many naturally surviving colonies worldwide than are currently known. The survey also shows that citizens can be readily engaged through social media, personal networks, and promotional campaigns to gather valuable and previously inaccessible data. These reports of surviving honey bee colonies will now be validated through the new initiative Honey Bee Watch, a global and multi-year Citizen Science project founded to connect citizens, beekeepers, and scientists. This will enable to increase scientific knowledge, mitigate honey bee colony losses, and develop education and conservation campaigns. Citizen Science contributes significantly to the conservation of biodiversity, but its application to honey bee research has remained minimal. Even though certain European honey bee (Apis mellifera) populations are known to naturally survive Varroa destructor infestations, it is unclear how widespread or common such populations are. Such colonies are highly valuable for investigating the mechanisms enabling colony survival, as well as for tracking the conservation status of free-living honey bees. Here, we use targeted Citizen Science to identify potentially new cases of managed or free-living A. mellifera populations that survive V. destructor without mite control strategies. In 2018, a survey containing 20 questions was developed, translated into 13 languages, and promoted at beekeeping conferences and online. After three years, 305 reports were collected from 28 countries: 241 from managed colonies and 64 from free-living colonies. The collected data suggest that there could be twice as many naturally surviving colonies worldwide than are currently known. Further, online and personal promotion seem to be key for successful recruitment of participants. Although the survivor status of these colonies still needs to be confirmed, the volume of reports and responses already illustrate how effectively Citizen Science can contribute to bee research by massively increasing generated data, broadening opportunities for comparative research, and fostering collaboration between scientists, beekeepers, and citizens. The success of this survey spurred the development of a more advanced Citizen Science platform, Honey Bee Watch, that will enable a more accurate reporting, confirmation, and monitoring of surviving colonies, and strengthen the ties between science, stakeholders, and citizens to foster the protection of both free-living and managed honey bees.


Citizen Science; COLOSS; honey bee; Honey Bee Watch; monitoring; natural selection; Varroa destructor

Published in

2021, volume: 12, number: 6, article number: 536
Publisher: MDPI

Authors' information

Moro, Arrigo
University of Bern
Dall’Olio, Raffaele
Rogenstein, Steve
Beaurepaire, Alexis
University of Bern
Blacquiere, Tjeerd
Wageningen University and Research
Dahle, Bjorn
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Dietemann, Vincent
University of Lausanne
Locke, Barbara (Locke Grandér, Barbara)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Licon Luna, Rosa Maria
Wild Bees Project
Le Conte, Yves
Neumann, Peter
University of Bern

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land
SDG4 Quality education

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