Assessing pathogen risks to honeybees and native bees in NSW
Bees provide vital pollination services for most fruit and vegetable crops, contributing substantially to prosperity and food security around the world. Despite this, we lack detailed knowledge about their general health and wellbeing, and particularly the nature of pathogen threats. At least 24 species of viruses have been reported in honeybees and this number is likely a tiny fraction of how many there are in reality. Interestingly, these viruses are not confined to honeybees, but can transfer across species. This makes sense, given the many ecological opportunities for viruses to spread from honeybees to many other bee species and vice versa. However, the dynamics of interactions between bee communities and viruses, as well as the ecological and economic implications, remain poorly understood.
After honeybees, stingless bees are the most important group of bees for crop pollination and honey production. Australia has 11 species of stingless bee, from two genera, Austroplebeia and Tetragonula, and three Tetragonula species are already important for commercial pollination. There is currently great concern that Australian honeybee populations will collapse if/when the Varroa mite invades, because collapses have followed Varroa invasion in many countries, including New Zealand. There is hope that the shortfall in pollination services might be filled by stingless bees.
The objective of my research is therefore to ascertain what viruses infect our native stingless bees. This includes known honeybee viruses that may be shared across honey and stingless bees, but also involves discovering new viruses that may be specific to stingless bees. Additionally, the bacterium, Lysinibacillus appears to be a major brood pathogen of stingless bees.
Bigot D, Dalmon A, Roy B, Hou CS, Germain M, Romary M, Deng S, Diao QY, Weinert LA, Cook JM, Herniou EA, Gayral P, (2017) 'The discovery of Halictivirus resolves the Sinaivirus phylogeny', Journal of General Virology, vol.98, no.11, pp 2864-2875
Research Project Supervisors
Professor James Cook, Associate Professor Markus Riegler, Associate Professor Robert Spooner-Hart