Viral work in Hawaii

Honeybees are facing multiple health threats that include habitat changes, pesticide exposure, poor nutrition, immunodeficiency, parasites, and diseases. The varroa mite and the Deformed Wing Virus have been identified among the most serious threats to honeybees. The global decline of honeybee populations has understandably spurred a number of researchers to examine the role played by the mite and the deadly Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) it transmits.

The Hawaiian archipelago provides a unique opportunity to study the impact of this virus. The restricted distribution of the mite between the islands allows us to compare the health of the colonies on the two infected islands, Oahu and the Big Island, to those on varroa free islands. In 2012, the UH team in collaboration with a group of UK based researchers did just that, and documented the impact of the mite on the prevalence and virulence of the DWV on infected areas. This work was published in the journal Science (see link on the right) and provided an important piece of the puzzle.

In early February 2016, another large-scale research article on varroa and DWV (Wilfert et al) was also published in Science. This new study provides insight on the geographical origin and evolutionary history of the mite and the virus. Dr. Ethel Villalobos, provided an accompanying piece to this article, which was published in the same issue in a section called “Perspectives”. This article titled “The mite that jumped, the bee that traveled, and the disease that followed” provides context to the data rich study and examines, in lay terms, how the movement of managed European honeybee colonies out of their native range may be linked to the global epidemic of Varroa destructor mite and the DWV.

Pictured above is the varroa mite feeding on an adult honeybee (photo credit: Ethel M. Villalobos).

Pictured left is a honeybee emerging with deformed wing virus (photo credit: Zhening Zhang).