Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alison K. Brody


The inadvertent spread of exotic pests and pathogens has resulted in devastating losses for bees. The vast majority of bee disease research has focused on a single species of managed bee, the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). More recently, pathogen spillover from managed bees is implicated in the decline of several bumble bee species (Bombus spp.) demonstrating a need to better understand the mechanisms driving disease prevalence in bees, transmission routes, and spillover events.

RNA viruses, once considered specific to honey bees, are suspected of spilling over from managed honey bees into wild bumble bee populations. To test this, I collected bees and flowers in the field from areas with and without honey bee apiaries nearby. Prevalence of deformed wing virus (DWV) and black queen cell virus (BQCV) as well as replicating DWV infections in Bombus vagans and B. bimaculatus were highest in bumble bees collected near honey bee apiaries (χ 12 < 6.531, P < 0.05). My results suggest that honey bees are significant contributors of viruses to bumble bees. Flowers have been suspected as bridges in virus transmission among bees. I detected bee viruses on 18% of the flowers collected within honey bee apiaries and detected no virus on flowers in areas without apiaries, thus providing evidence that viruses are transmitted at flowers from infected honey bees. In controlled experiments using captive colonies in flight cages, I found that honey bees leave viruses on flowers but not equally across plant species. My results suggest that there are differences in virus ecology mediated by floral morphology and/or pollinator behavior. No bumble bees became infected in controlled experiments, indicating that virus transmission through plants is a rare event that is likely to require repeated exposure.

The few studies examining viruses in bumble bees are generally limited to virus detection, resulting in little understanding of the conditions affecting virus titers. In honeybees, infections may remain latent, capable of replicating under certain conditions, such as immunosuppression induced by pesticide exposure. I tested whether exposure to imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide, affects virus titers in bumble bees. In previous honey bee studies, imidacloprid exposure increased virus titers. In contrast, I found that bumble bee exposure to imidacloprid decreased BQCV and DWV titers (χ42 < 20.873, p < 0.02). My findings suggest that virus-pesticide interactions are species-specific and results from honey bee studies should not be generalized across other bee species.

Having found that honey bees are significant contributors of viruses to wild bees and flowers, I investigated how honey bee management practices affect disease spread and developed recommendations and tools to lesson the risk of spillover events. Honey bee disease may be exacerbated by migratory beekeeping which increases stress and opportunities for disease transmission. I experimentally tested whether migratory conditions contribute to disease spread in honey bees and found negative yet varying effects on bees suggesting that the effects of migratory practices may be ameliorated with rest time between pollination events. State apiary inspection programs are critical to controlling disease spread and reducing the risk of spillover. However, these programs are often resource constrained. I developed and deployed a toolkit that enables state programs to prioritize inspections and provide a platform for beekeeper education. Using novel data collected in Vermont, I discovered several promising avenues for future research and provided realistic recommendations to improve bee health.



Number of Pages

207 p.