Understanding the epidemiology of pathogens within bee communities in Pennsylvania

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,969.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: The Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Heather Hines
The Pennsylvania State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: pollination, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, mentoring
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, indicators

    Proposal abstract:

    Over the last 15 years, bee populations have sharply declined; this population decrease has sparked global concern about bee population health because of bees’ importance as crop and native plant pollinators. Bee declines pose a serious risk to human food supply, crop production, wild plant diversity, and the commercial bee industry. Pathogens are a leading factor implicated in these declines. Previous research indicates that pathogens, ranging from RNA viruses to microsporidian fungi, are horizontally transmitted between honey bees (Apis) and bumble bees (Bombus) in the field. Management of bee diseases requires understanding the macroscale seasonal trends of pathogen cycles, pathogenicity in different types of bees, and how the type of landscape (e.g., agricultural, urban, natural) can impact pathogen incidence and transmission. The purpose of this research is to better understand the epidemiology and transmission of pathogens for the whole bee community and to develop predictive epidemiological models for bee pathogens. Thus, we will collect honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees, and pollen throughout the active season and screen the samples for pathogens. We will examine (1) the seasonal prevalence of pathogens in the pollinator community, (2) how the influence of pathogens differ between bee groups, and (3) if landscape or plant type impacts pathogen prevalence. This project will provide essential information for managing the health of bee pollinator communities and thereby ensure sustained and high crop productivity.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We wish to develop a predictive model of pathogen incidence within bee communities by addressing the following questions:

    A) Is there a seasonality to pathogen prevalence in bees and does this differ between bee types (honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees)?

    B) Does overall pathogen prevalence differ between honey bees, bumble bees, and solitary bees, suggesting that life history and limited transmissibility between taxa may impact pathogen spread?

    C) What role do specific landscape (agricultural, urban, or natural) types or plant species play in pathogen prevalence?

    These data will be used to better understand how pathogens persist and are transmitted across bee communities. Results of this research will be disseminated beyond scientific research to policy makers, extension staff, crop growers, and bee keepers.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.