Introduction: Honey bees, Apis mellifera, have a diverse community of pathogens. Previous research has mostly focused on bacterial brood diseases of high virulence, but milder diseases caused by fungal pathogens have recently attracted more attention. This interest has been triggered by partial evidence that co-infection with multiple pathogens has the potential to accelerate honey bee mortality. In the present study we tested whether co-infection with closely related fungal brood-pathogen species that are either specialists or non-specialist results in higher host mortality than infections with a single specialist. We used a specially designed laboratory assay to expose honey bee larvae to controlled infections with spores of three Ascosphaera species: A. apis, the specialist pathogen that causes chalkbrood disease in honey bees, A. proliperda, a specialist pathogen that causes chalkbrood disease in solitary bees, and A. atra, a saprophytic fungus growing typically on pollen brood-provision masses of solitary bees.Results: We show for the first time that single infection with a pollen fungus A. atra may induce some mortality and that co-infection with A. atra and A. apis resulted in higher mortality of honey bees compared to single infections with A. apis. However, similar single and mixed infections with A. proliperda did not increase brood mortality.Conclusion: Our results show that co-infection with a closely related fungal species can either increase or have no effect on host mortality, depending on the identity of the second species. Together with other studies suggesting that multiple interacting pathogens may be contributing to worldwide honey bee health declines, our results highlight the importance of studying effects of multiple infections, even when all interacting species are not known to be specialist pathogens.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology