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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

Rapid parallel evolution overcomes global honey bee parasite

Oddie, Melissa; Buechler, Ralph; Dahle, Bjorn; Kovacic, Marin; Le Conte, Yves; Locke, Barbara; de Miranda, Joachim R.; Mondet, Fanny; Neumann, Peter


In eusocial insect colonies nestmates cooperate to combat parasites, a trait called social immunity. However, social immunity failed for Western honey bees (Apis mellifera) when the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor switched hosts from Eastern honey bees (Apis cerana). This mite has since become the most severe threat to A. mellifera world-wide. Despite this, some isolated A. mellifera populations are known to survive infestations by means of natural selection, largely by supressing mite reproduction, but the underlying mechanisms of this are poorly understood. Here, we show that a cost-effective social immunity mechanism has evolved rapidly and independently in four naturally V. destructor-surviving A. mellifera populations. Worker bees of all four 'surviving' populations uncapped/recapped worker brood cells more frequently and targeted mite-infested cells more effectively than workers in local susceptible colonies. Direct experiments confirmed the ability of uncapping/recapping to reduce mite reproductive success without sacrificing nestmates. Our results provide striking evidence that honey bees can overcome exotic parasites with simple qualitative and quantitative adaptive shifts in behaviour. Due to rapid, parallel evolution in four host populations this appears to be a key mechanism explaining survival of mite infested colonies.

Published in

Scientific Reports
2018, Volume: 8, article number: 7704