Biological and environmental factors influencing the health of the honey bee, Apis mellifera
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The honey bee, Apis mellifera L., is arguably the most important insect pollinator in North America, contributing an estimated $17 billion annually to the U.S. economy, primarily through crop pollination (Morse and Calderone 2000, Calderone 2012). Despite the economic importance of honey bees, the number of managed colonies available for pollination services has dropped dramatically during the last decade, threatening the production of many bee-dependent crops across the country (Rucker et al. 2012). The most influential culprit in such declines continues to be the ectoparasitic mite, Varroa destructor, a pest of honey bees that sucks the hemolymph of brood and adults, and vectors several bee viruses (Chen et al. 2004). Recent surveys across the country have indicated that not only Varroa-associated problems, but multiple ailments including poor nutrition, failing queens, pesticide contamination, and genetic inbreeding, among others, are the most commonly reported problems facing apiculture today (vanEngelsdorp et al. 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013). Thus, as the demand for healthy honey bee colonies is expected to increase along with food demands, the health and number of managed honey bee colonies available for pollination in the United States continues to decline (vanEngelsdorp et al. 2011, 2012), threatening the production of many crops dependent on honey bees for successful crop set. Thus, improving the health and productivity of managed and feral honey bees as important pollinators of major crops is of key importance for food security in both Texas, and the United States. Honey bees are also biologically significant because they serve as a paradigm of organization and cooperation, because they exhibit strict reproductive division of labor (Winston 1987, Seeley 1995). Non-reproductive tasks in the colony (e.g., nest construction, brood rearing, foraging, and defense) are carried out by tens of thousands of sterile female workers, while reproductive tasks are carried out by one female queen (i.e., the mother of all individuals in the colony) and a few thousand male drones that are produced seasonally..........