Why does bee health matter? The science surrounding honey bee health concerns and what we can do about it

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Abstract

A colony of honey bees is an amazing organism when it is healthy; it is a superorganism in many senses of the word. As with any organism, maintaining a state of health requires cohesiveness and interplay among cells and tissues and, in the case of a honey bee colony, the bees themselves. The individual bees that make up a honey bee colony deliver to the superorganism what it needs: pollen and nectar collected from flowering plants that contain nutrients necessary for growth and survival. Honey bees with access to better and more complete nutrition exhibit improved immune system function and behavioral defenses for fighting off effects of pathogens and pesticides (Evans and Spivak 2010; Mao, Schuler, and Berenbaum 2013; Wahl and Ulm 1983). Sadly, as this story is often told in the headlines, the focus is rarely about what it means for a honey bee colony to be healthy and is instead primarily focused on colony survival rates. Bee colonies are chronically exposed to parasitic mites, viruses, diseases, miticides, pesticides, and poor nutrition, which weaken and make innate defenses insufficient at overcoming these combined stressors. Colonies that are chronically weakened can be even more susceptible to infections and levels of pesticide exposure that might otherwise be innocuous, further promoting a downward spiral of health. Sick and weakened bees diminish the colony’s resiliency, ultimately leading to a breakdown in the social structure, production, efficiency, immunity, and reproduction of the colony, and eventual or sudden colony death.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Why does bee health matter? The science surrounding honey bee health concerns and what we can do about it
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Council for Agricultural Science and Technology
Contributing office(s) Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description 16 p.
First page 1
Last page 16
Country United States