The role of Varroa and viral pathogens in the collapse of honeybee colonies: a modelling approach.

Published online
03 Jan 2002
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Martin, S. J.

Publication language


The ecto-parasitic mite Varroa destructor is a serious world-wide pest of the honeybee Apis mellifera and has being linked with the death of millions of colonies, although its role in colony death has remained elusive. A simulation model was developed to explain the link between the mite and collapse of the host bee colony, given that colony death does not always occur. We investigated the effects of two pathogens, deformed wing virus (DWV) and acute paralysis virus (APV), vectored by the mite, on the host colony. Two previously published simulation models, a bee and a mite, were combined and adapted for use in temperate climates with a variety of bee diseases. The model was constructed using Modelmaker software, which allows the progression of a disease in the host colony to be followed daily. The population dynamics generated by the model were similar to those observed in a natural honeybee colony. When DWV- or APV-transmitting mites were introduced into the colony, its adult worker bee population collapsed either during winter or spring for DWV, or autumn to spring for APV. This corresponds well with field observations of colony death in Europe. The model revealed that DWV initially had little effect on the colony but during late summer, as the population of DWV-transmitting mites increased, the virus caused a reduction in the number of healthy young bees entering the overwintering population. This imbalance in the age structure of the overwintering bees resulted in the eventual death of the colony during the winter or spring. As few as 2000-3600 mites in autumn could kill a colony. 6. In contrast, APV transmitted by Varroa was only able to kill the honeybee colony if a large (10 000+) mite population was already present when an overt APV infection occurred. It was difficult for APV to become established within the bee population due to it causing rapid host death. The model predicts that the less virulent DWV will become more widely established than the highly virulent APV, and that mite control measures need to be taken prior to the production of overwintering bees.

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