Honey bees as environmental biomonitors of pathogens and contaminants


Cunningham M M, Tran L, McKee C, Newman T, Gladish DW, Lofano AK, Bilodeau GJ, Rott M, Guarna MM (2021). Honey bees as environmental biomonitors of pathogens and contaminants. Entomology 2021, 69th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, 31 Oct - 03 Nov, Denver, CO, hybrid meeting proceedings


The European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) has received significant attention in recent years for its role in environmental biomonitoring; a method that utilizes living organisms to assess environment health. Honey bees are globally managed pollinators that can be exposed to contaminants and pathogens during foraging; carrying them to the hive where they can be detected and quantified in hive materials: honey, stored pollen, and wax. Although individual bees are vulnerable to contaminants, the honey bee colony is resilient and can accumulate stressors without collapsing. This allows for long term monitoring and the potential to create spatio-temporal gradients of environmental contamination. Here we discuss demonstrated and proposed uses of honey bees as biomonitors of environmental contaminants, pathogens, and climate variations in the recent literature. We also present recent results from our laboratories on the detection of plant and bee pathogens in bees and bee-collected pollen. High-throughput methodologies such as next generation sequencing can reveal the presence of plant viruses, fungi, bacteria, and potential invasive plant species earlier than with traditional detection methods. In addition, gene expression studies have been used to identify dose dependent exposures to environmental stressors, as well as extreme temperature events indicative of a changing climate. In our discussion, we will attempt to demonstrate the effectiveness of honey bees as biomonitors for a range of stressors and their potential use in environmental monitoring programs; crucial for protecting human, agriculture, and overall ecosystem health.