Flight behaviour of honey bee (Apis mellifera) workers is altered by initial infections of the fungal parasite Nosema apis

doi: 10.1038/srep36649


Honey bees (Apis mellifera) host a wide range of parasites, some being known contributors towards dramatic colony losses as reported over recent years. To counter parasitic threats, honey bees possess effective immune systems. Because immune responses are predicted to cause substantial physiological costs for infected individuals, they are expected to trade off with other life history traits that ultimately affect the performance and fitness of the entire colony. Here, we tested whether the initial onset of an infection negatively impacts the flight behaviour of honey bee workers, which is an energetically demanding behaviour and a key component of foraging activities. To do this, we infected workers with the widespread fungal pathogen Nosema apis, which is recognised and killed by the honey bee immune system. We compared their survival and flight behaviour with non-infected individuals from the same cohort and colony using radio frequency identification tags (RFID). We found that over a time frame of four days post infection, Nosema did not increase mortality but workers quickly altered their flight behaviour and performed more flights of shorter duration. We conclude that parasitic infections influence foraging activities, which could reduce foraging ranges of colonies and impact their ability to provide pollination services.

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