Urbanization increases pathogen pressure on feral and managed honey bees

Elsa Youngsteadt, R. Holden Appler, Margarita M. López-Uribe, David R. Tarpy, Steven D. Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Given the role of infectious disease in global pollinator decline, there is a need to understand factors that shape pathogen susceptibility and transmission in bees. Here we ask how urbanization affects the immune response and pathogen load of feral and managed colonies of honey bees (Apis mellifera Linnaeus), the predominant economically important pollinator worldwide. Using quantitative real-time PCR, we measured expression of 4 immune genes and relative abundance of 10 honey bee pathogens. We also measured worker survival in a laboratory bioassay. We found that pathogen pressure on honey bees increased with urbanization and management, and the probability of worker survival declined 3-fold along our urbanization gradient. The effect of management on pathogens appears to be mediated by immunity, with feral bees expressing immune genes at nearly twice the levels of managed bees following an immune challenge. The effect of urbanization, however, was not linked with immunity; instead, urbanization may favor viability and transmission of some disease agents. Feral colonies, with lower disease burdens and stronger immune responses, may illuminate ways to improve honey bee management. The previously unexamined effects of urbanization on honey-bee disease are concerning, suggesting that urban areas may favor problematic diseases of pollinators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0142031
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 4 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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