Honey Bee Behaviors and Viruses

Haritos, Amber
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

In recent years, honey bee populations have been under increased stress, which has led to declines in bee populations worldwide. One important stressor to honey bee health is infection with poorly understood viruses. Little is known about how these viruses affect bees, but their effect on behavior is particularly understudied. We hypothesized that the virus would initiate the infected bees to interact more with the “healthy” bees to spread the virus more efficiently. Therefore, to better understand how viral infection affects honey bee behavior, we experimentally infected adult honey bees and then used laboratory assays to observe and record the effect on their social behavior. We observed how infected, uninfected, and pseudo-infected (bees fed inactive virus) bees interacted with an uninfected nest-mate to identify how viral pathogens could change these interactions. We observed a total of 360 honey bees for differences in occurrence between the different treatment groups. We found that the majority of behaviors we recorded remained the same between the groups. However, some potentially important social behaviors, such as grooming, differed between the groups, with the infected bees expressing more/less of a behavior. Our results indicate that viral infection can lead to differences in social behavioral phenotype in honey bees. These behaviors are particularly important because they could be involved in the spread of pathogens or social behaviors that help stop infections from spreading. Drastic changes in behavior could also lead to larger-scale effects on the colony as a whole, with important potential impacts on overall hive health. In the future, we can perform more fine-tuned behavioral observations, focusing on the behaviors we identified as important and scaling up our experiments into larger settings, such as full-sized bee hives. Another idea is that we may choose to video tape the interactions between the honey bees and score the behaviors this way because although this method would take longer, it’s a lot more accurate to notice every single detail.