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Mutations associated with pyrethroid resistance in the honey bee parasite Varroa destructor evolved as a series of parallel and sequential events


Managed honey bees have suffered severe seasonal losses for most of the past 30 years, while at the same time there is a growing need for food crop pollination. Parasitism by Varroa destructor plays a key role in explaining these losses as this parasite directly damages honey bees by feeding on them and by vectoring an array of viruses while doing so. Pyrethroids like tau-fluvalinate and flumethrin are among the few acaricides that may control Varroa mites in honey bee colonies. However, their intensive use has led to the evolution of resistance in many locations. Knockdown resistance (kdr-type) in Varroa destructor is associated with point mutations that change the amino acid at position 925 in the para-type voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC) from leucine to valine, methionine or isoleucine. In order to assess the evolution of resistant mutations, we genotyped a region of the VGSC from V. destructor samples collected worldwide. Our phylogenetic analysis supports the hypothesis of independent origin for resistant alleles in Europe and the USA, and a close relation between L925M and L925I alleles. Our data also suggest that uncontrolled trading of parasitised honey bees might be an important route for spreading resistant alleles overseas. The substitution M918L, associated with pyrethroid resistance in other species, is reported here for the first time in V. destructor, in conjunction with L925V in mites from Spain. The implications of these evolutionary and dispersal processes for Varroa mite management are discussed.

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The datasets generated and analysed during the current study are available within the article and its supplementary materials, as well as from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The authors want to thank all beekeepers, beekeeper associations and the Apiary inspectors of America for providing the mite samples used in this study. Frank Rinkevich (USDA, Baton Rouge, Louisiana) revised earlier versions of this manuscript, his comments and suggestions have greatly improved the final version.


The work at the University of Valencia was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (Grant: RTI2018-095120-B-I00). JGC and IM were supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Ramón y Cajal (Grant: RYC-2013-13834) and Juan de la Cierva‐Incorporación (Grant: JCI2018-036614-I) programs, respectively. PDlR was supported by Fundación Séneca (Grant: 19908/GERM/2015). Samples collection in the USA was funded by the US National Honey Bee Disease Survey USDA-APHIS (16-8100-1624-CA, 15-8100-1624-CA).

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Correspondence to Joel González-Cabrera.

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This study does not contain any experiments using any animal species that require ethical approval.

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Communicated by C. Cutler.

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Millán-Leiva, A., Marín, Ó., De la Rúa, P. et al. Mutations associated with pyrethroid resistance in the honey bee parasite Varroa destructor evolved as a series of parallel and sequential events. J Pest Sci 94, 1505–1517 (2021).

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