Adaptation to vector-based transmission in a honeybee virus

Amanda M. Norton*, Emily J. Remnant, Jolanda Tom, Gabriele Buchmann, Tjeerd Blacquiere, Madeleine Beekman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Global pollinator declines as a result of emerging infectious diseases are of major concern. Managed honeybees Apis mellifera are susceptible to numerous parasites and pathogens, many of which appear to be transmissible to sympatric non-Apis taxa. The ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor is considered to be the most significant threat to honeybees due to its role in vectoring RNA viruses, particularly Deformed wing virus (DWV). Vector transmission of DWV has resulted in the accumulation of high viral loads in honeybees and is often associated with colony death. DWV has two main genotypes, A and B. DWV-A was more prevalent during the initial phase of V. destructor establishment. In recent years, the global prevalence of DWV-B has increased, suggesting that DWV-B is better adapted to vector transmission than DWV-A. We aimed to determine the role vector transmission plays in DWV genotype prevalence at a colony level. We experimentally increased or decreased the number of V. destructor mites in honeybee colonies, and tracked DWV-A and DWV-B loads over a period of 10 months. Our results show that the two DWV genotypes differ in their response to mite numbers. DWV-A accumulation in honeybees was positively correlated with mite numbers yet DWV-A was largely undetected in the absence of the mite. In contrast, colonies had high loads of DWV-B even when mite numbers were low. DWV-B loads persisted in miticide-treated colonies, indicating that this genotype has a competitive advantage over DWV-A irrespective of mite numbers. Our findings suggest that the global increase in DWV-B prevalence is not driven by selective pressure by the vector. Rather, DWV-B is able to persist in colonies at higher viral loads relative to DWV-A in the presence and absence of V. destructor. The interplay between V. destructor and DWV genotypes within honeybee colonies may have broad consequences upon viral diversity in sympatric taxa as a result of spillover.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2254-2267
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number10
Early online date12 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • honeybee
  • host–pathogen interactions
  • RNA virus
  • Varroa destructor
  • vector transmission


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