Insectes Sociaux

, 58:431 | Cite as

An emerging paradigm of colony health: microbial balance of the honey bee and hive (Apis mellifera)

  • K. E. AndersonEmail author
  • T. H. Sheehan
  • B. J. Eckholm
  • B. M. Mott
  • G. DeGrandi-Hoffman
Review Article


Across the globe, honey bee populations have been declining at an unprecedented rate. Managed honey bees are highly social, frequent a multitude of environmental niches, and continually share food, conditions that promote the transmission of parasites and pathogens. Additionally, commercial honey bees used in agriculture are stressed by crowding and frequent transport, and exposed to a plethora of agricultural chemicals and their associated byproducts. When considering this problem, the hive of the honey bee may be best characterized as an extended organism that not only houses developing young and nutrient rich food stores, but also serves as a niche for symbiotic microbial communities that aid in nutrition and defend against pathogens. The niche requirements and maintenance of beneficial honey bee symbionts are largely unknown, as are the ways in which such communities contribute to honey bee nutrition, immunity, and overall health. In this review, we argue that the honey bee should be viewed as a model system to examine the effect of microbial communities on host nutrition and pathogen defense. A systems view focused on the interaction of the honey bee with its associated microbial community is needed to understand the growing agricultural challenges faced by this economically important organism. The road to sustainable honey bee pollination may eventually require the detoxification of agricultural systems, and in the short term, the integrated management of honey bee microbial systems.


Symbiosis Extended organism Social insects Microbial ecology Pathogen defense 



We thank Jay Evans, Timothy Linksvayer, Scott Turner and Michiel Dijkstra for suggestions that improved the manuscript. This work is dedicated to Martha Gilliam, who devoted her career to the characterization of honey bee associated microbes. The USDA/ARS is an equal opportunity employer and provider.


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) (outside the USA) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. E. Anderson
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • T. H. Sheehan
    • 2
  • B. J. Eckholm
    • 2
  • B. M. Mott
    • 1
  • G. DeGrandi-Hoffman
    • 1
  1. 1.Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, USDA-ARSTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of EntomologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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