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Pathogen-associated self-medication behavior in the honeybee Apis mellifera

Abstract

Honeybees, Apis mellifera, have several prophylactic disease defense strategies, including the foraging of antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral compounds of plant products. Hence, honey and pollen contain many compounds that prevent fungal and bacterial growth and inhibit viral replication. Since these compounds are also fed to the larvae by nurse bees, they play a central role for colony health inside the hive. Here, we show that honeybee nurse bees, infected with the microsporidian gut parasite Nosema ceranae, show different preferences for various types of honeys in a simultaneous choice test. Infected workers preferred honeys with a higher antibiotic activity that reduced the microsporidian infection after the consumption of the honey. Since nurse bees feed not only the larvae but also other colony members, this behavior might be a highly adaptive form of therapeutic medication at both the individual and the colony level.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Victoriţa Bonta for the help with determining antibiotic contaminants and the two reviewers for most helpful comments. Financial support was granted by the project RoBeeTech (grant POS CCE 206/20.07.2010 SMIS code 618/12460 to L.A. Mărghitaş, D.S. Dezmirean, and R.F.A. Moritz) and an ERASMUS MUNDUS exchange program grant (A.D.). The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Daniel S. Dezmirean or Silvio Erler.

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Communicated by S. Cremer

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Gherman, B.I., Denner, A., Bobiş, O. et al. Pathogen-associated self-medication behavior in the honeybee Apis mellifera . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 1777–1784 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1786-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1786-8

Keywords

  • Honeybee
  • Honey
  • Antimicrobial activity
  • Therapeutic self-medication
  • Nosema ceranae
  • Social immunity