CATCH THE BUZZ – Parasites and Pesticides


Open Access

Parasites and pesticides act antagonistically on honey bee health

Gwendolyn Bird

Alan E. Wilson

Geoffrey R. Williams

Nate B. Hardy


  1. Pesticides and parasites have each been linked to increased mortality in western honey bees (Apis mellifera). Currently, it is uncertain if one makes the other worse; several studies have tested for potential synergistic stressor effects, but results have been mixed.
  2. Here, we use a hierarchical meta‐analysis of 63 experiments from 26 studies to gain a clearer view of the combined effects of parasites and pesticides on honey bee health.
  3. We found that combined pesticide–parasite treatments do tend to be deadlier than uncombined treatments but are significantly less deadly than predicted additive or multiplicative effects. In other words, combined treatment effects are not synergistic, but antagonistic.
  4. Much of the previous uncertainty about the combined effects of pesticides and parasites on honey bee health can be attributed to a bias in the previous research against stressor antagonism; many researchers have excluded the possibility of antagonism a priori.
  5. Synthesis and applications. Meta‐analysis shows that when honey bees are stressed by a combination of pesticides and parasites, the combined stress effect is antagonistic, that is, less than the sum of its parts. A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying this antagonism could prove critical for effective management of honey bee health.