Deformed wing virus implicated in overwintering honeybee colony losses

Andrea C. Highfield, Aliya El Nagar, Luke C.M. Mackinder, Laure M.L.J. Noël, Matthew J. Hall, Stephen J. Martin, Declan C. Schroeder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

214 Scopus citations


The worldwide decline in honeybee colonies during the past 50 years has often been linked to the spread of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor and its interaction with certain honeybee viruses. Recently in the United States, dramatic honeybee losses (colony collapse disorder) have been reported; however, there remains no clear explanation for these colony losses, with parasitic mites, viruses, bacteria, and fungal diseases all being proposed as possible candidates. Common characteristics that most failing colonies share is a lack of overt disease symptoms and the disappearance of workers from what appears to be normally functioning colonies. In this study, we used quantitative PCR to monitor the presence of three honeybee viruses, deformed wing virus (DWV), acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV), and black queen cell virus (BQCV), during a 1-year period in 15 asymptomatic, varroa mite-positive honeybee colonies in Southern England, and 3 asymptomatic colonies confirmed to be varroa mite free. All colonies with varroa mites underwent control treatments to ensure that mite populations remained low throughout the study. Despite this, multiple virus infections were detected, yet a significant correlation was observed only between DWV viral load and overwintering colony losses. The long-held view has been that DWV is relatively harmless to the overall health status of honeybee colonies unless it is in association with severe varroa mite infestations. Our findings suggest that DWV can potentially act independently of varroa mites to bring about colony losses. Therefore, DWV may be a major factor in overwintering colony losses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7212-7220
Number of pages9
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2009


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