Bee-mediated monitoring of pesticides, pathogens, and emerging threats


Guarna MM, Cunningham MM, Tran L, Ortega Polo R, Pernal SF, Griffiths JS, Murcia-Morales M, Fernández-Alba AR, Bilodeau GJ, Rott ME (2023) Bee-mediated monitoring of pesticides, pathogens, and emerging threats. 48th International Apimondia Congress, p. 49, 4-8 Sep 2024, Santiago, Chile.


The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) plays a crucial role in many agricultural systems because of their global pollination services. In addition, honey bee colonies can serve as monitors of the surrounding environment. Bees are exposed to pathogens, pesticides and other pollutants during foraging, carrying them to the hive where they can be detected and quantified. We will present results of testing of plant pathogens and pesticides in hive matrices, and discuss recent developments including a non-invasive sampler, the “APIStrip” (Absorbing Pesticides In-hive Strips) developed in the framework of the INSIGNIA project, to monitor for agrochemical exposure. In addition, we will discuss the potential of using honey bee colonies for the detection of emerging threats such as invasive species and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes. For the identification of AMR genes, we used metagenomic sequencing of the honey bee gut microbiome. We identified tetracycline resistance genes as expected due to the widespread use oxytetracycline in apiculture. Interestingly, we also identified AMR genes for products not used to treat honey bee colonies, indicating the utility of bee-based environmental monitoring. Monitoring AMR genes in apiaries and their surrounding environment can guide decisions towards limited and informed antibiotic use. We will also report our recent results analyzing bees and bee-collected pollen from pollinating colonies in blueberry, apple and cherry fields in British Columbia, Canada. We established the presence of plant viruses, fungi, and bacteria using high-throughput sequencing, including twenty-nine unique plant viral species in two blueberry production systems. Although additional research is needed, bee-based surveillance of plant pathogens, agrochemicals, and AMR genes has the potential to be
an effective tool in environmental monitoring programs, crucial for protecting human, agriculture, and overall ecosystem health.