By: Vincent Piou, Frank Schurr, Eric Dubois and Angélique Vétillard
Varroa destructor is the major ectoparasite of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera). Through both its parasitic life-cycle and its role as a vector of viral pathogens, it can cause major damage to honey bee colonies. The deformed wing virus (DWV) is the most common virus transmitted by this ectoparasite, and the mite is correlated to increased viral prevalence and viral loads in infested colonies. DWV variants A and B (DWV-A and DWV-B, respectively) are the two major DWV variants, and they differ both in their virulence and transmission dynamics.
We studied the transmission of DWV between bees, parasitic mites and their offspring by quantifying DWV loads in bees and mites collected in in vitro and in situ environments. In vitro, we artificially transmitted DWV-A to mites and quantified both DWV-A and DWV-B in mites and bees. In situ, we measured the natural presence of DWV-B in bees, mites and mites’ offspring.
Bee and mite viral loads were correlated, and mites carrying both variants were associated with higher mortality of the infected host. Mite infestation increased the DWV-B loads and decreased the DWV-A loads in our laboratory conditions. In situ, viral quantification in the mite offspring showed that, after an initially non-infected egg stage, the DWV-B loads were more closely correlated with the foundress (mother) mites than with the bee hosts.
The association between mites and DWV-B was highlighted in this study. The parasitic history of a mite directly impacts its DWV infection potential during the rest of its life-cycle (in terms of variant and viral loads). Regarding the mite’s progeny, we hypothesize that the route of contamination is likely through the feeding site rather than by vertical transmission, although further studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.
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