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Author Notes:

Correspondence: Travis L. Dynes, travis.dynes@gmail.com

Author contributions: BJB, JCdR, and KSD designed the experiment. KSD and JAB oversaw the implementation of the experiment. JAB and TLD aided in the collection of the data. TLD performed the data analysis and wrote the manuscript with assistance from BJB and JCdR.

We are grateful to N. Weaver, B. Nolan, N. Beach, J. Garrison, B. Rouse, and W. Johns for maintaining and collecting measurements from colonies. We thank A. Mayrand, E. Dymit, N. Keathley, B. Meh, H. Laypaw, H. Bok, A. Fife, N. Cox, S. Tigges, L. Gilbert-Odem, K. Alexander, H. Nair, D. Obiago, E. Resnick, H. Bradshaw, and O. Hendler for counting mites in alcohol washes.

Disclosures: The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest


Research Funding:

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01-109501, to JCdR, BJB, and KSD) and the National Science Foundation (DGE-1444932, to TLD).


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Entomology
  • Apis mellifera
  • growth rate
  • host management
  • virulence
  • Varroa destructor
  • R-package
  • Evolution
  • Host
  • Population
  • Transmission
  • Jacobsoni
  • Parasites
  • Colonies
  • Coevolution
  • Maintenance

Assessing virulence of Varroa destructor mites from different honey bee management regimes


Journal Title:



Volume 51, Number 2


, Pages 276-289

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


The mite Varroa destructor is an important honey bee parasite that causes substantial losses of honey bee colonies worldwide. Evolutionary theory suggests that the high densities at which honey bees are managed in large-scale beekeeping settings will likely select for mites with greater growth and virulence, thereby potentially explaining the major damage done by these mites. We tested this hypothesis by collecting mites from feral bee colonies, “lightly” managed colonies (those from small-scale sedentary operations), and “heavily” managed colonies (those from large-scale operations that move thousands of colonies across the US on a yearly basis). We established 8 apiaries, each consisting of 11 colonies from a standardized lightly managed bee background that were cleared of mites, and artificially infested each apiary with controlled numbers of mites from feral, lightly managed, or heavily managed bees or left uninoculated as negative control. We monitored the colonies for more than 2 years for mite levels, colony strength (adult bee population, brood coverage, and honey storage), and survival. As predicted by evolutionary theory, we found that colonies inoculated with mites from managed backgrounds had increased V. destructor mite levels relative to those with mites from feral colonies or negative controls. However, we did not see a difference between heavily and lightly managed colonies, and these higher mite burdens did not translate into greater virulence, as measured by reductions in colony strength and survival. Our results suggest that human management of honey bee colonies may favor the increased population growth rate of V. destructor, but that a range of potential confounders (including viral infections and genotype-by-genotype interactions) likely contribute to the relationship between mite reproduction and virulence.

Copyright information:

© The Author(s), 2019.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
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