The COLOSS BEEBOOK Volume II - Foreword

Marie-Pierre Chauzat1* and Alberto Laddomada2

1ANSES, Sophia-Antipolis Laboratory, Les Templiers, 105, route des Chappes, BP 111 06902 Sophia-Antipolis, France.
2Unit G2 Animal Health, Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO), European Commission, Brussels, Belgium.

*Corresponding author: Email:

Honey bees have fascinated mankind since the Stone Age. The oldest evidence of honey collection by humans dates from c. 6000 BC in a cave near Valencia in Spain. Subsequent to the interest in their honey, the only sweetener available in the wild, honey bees have also captured the attention of people because of their social organization. In 1973, the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine was awarded to Karl von Frisch, Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz "for their discoveries concerning organisation and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns" especially the description of the honey bee dance language by Karl von Frisch. More recently, honey bees have drawn the attention of the public and stakeholders because of higher than normal mortalities of colonies reported by beekeepers in many countries for which the exact causes remain largely unknown. There is, however, a scientific consensus that there is no single cause for these losses, which are undoubtedly caused by a combination of a number of factors.
Honey bees are affected by various pathogens, and some have long been known. In c. 300 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle reported the presence of “rust” in honey bee colonies, which was probably what we now know as American foulbrood, a serious bacterial disease. It is also worth noting that the gut parasite Nosema apis has been the subject of studies for more than a century.
However in recent decades, honey bees have been subjected to new threats. The discovery and exploration of “new worlds” by Europeans made possible the introduction and establishment of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) outside its natural distribution area. This movement suppressed the natural geographical segregation established for millions for years between the different species of honey bees. The Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) has evolved together with its pathogens for thousands of years reaching a sustainable equilibrium. The introduction of the western honey bee in Asia made possible the jump of pathogens from A. cerana to A. mellifera. The current major threat of honey bees worldwide is the ectoparasite Varroa destructor which originated in Asia as a parasite of A. cerana. The mite feeds on the honey bee haemolymph by piercing the host cuticle. The wounds created facilitate the exchange of viruses between the host and the parasite. Although honey bee viruses had been identified
in Europe before the introduction of V. destructor, they were of limited economic importance. The deleterious effect of V. destructor on honey bee colonies has now been studied for more than 30 years, yet the pathogenicity mechanisms still remain largely unknown, because they involve complex interactions between the host, pathogens and parasite.
The worldwide trade in honey bees and hive products has accelerated the diffusion of ‘new’ pathogens, predators and pests to other parts of world. A new species of Nosema (N. ceranae), also initially described from the Asian honey bee, has lately been widely detected on A. mellifera. This parasite has apparently silently spread throughout the world for decades, yet only recently has it supplanted N. apis in honey bee colonies in warm climates. American foulbrood (AFB) and European foulbrood are two bacterial diseases affecting honey bees. Caused respectively by Paenibacillus larvae and Melissococcus plutonius, the diseases affect the brood of A. mellifera. Because P. larvae is a spore forming bacteria, AFB is extremely contagious.
Beekeeping activity is highly dependent of the environment, more so than any other animal keeping or food production industry. It is therefore crucial to assess the influence all environmental factors on honey bee health. These can include, inter alia, the insufficient availability and diversity of pollen and nectar as food, the presence of natural bee predators or competitors and the effects of pesticides on honey bee health, not to mention the role of honey bee genetic diversity and the bees' natural resistance mechanisms against pathogens.
The need for more efficient standardisation in honey bee experimentation is widely recognised, but until now has not been widely adopted. Standardisation is vital for harmonious veterinary standards, and for daily routine diagnostics that are essential to ensure confidence in the comparability of results from different laboratories. Researchers, policy makers, veterinary services, beekeepers and other stakeholders all have the same goal: to contribute to a healthy and productive apicultural sector in its quest for long-term sustainability both in the EU and worldwide.
In terms of the regulatory aspects of honey bee pathogens, under the WTO (World Trade Organisation) agreement on the application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement), the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) publishes sanitary standards
for international trade in animals and animal products. As part of this activity, OIE develops international standards and guidelines for diagnostic tests and vaccines as well as for veterinary laboratories. Six honey bee diseases are listed by the OIE in the Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals to provide internationally agreed diagnostic laboratory methods.
In the framework of European honey bee health rules, the
European Commission designated the ANSES Sophia-Antipolis
laboratory as the European Union Reference Laboratory (EU RL) for bee health on 29 October 2010. The EU RL for honey bee health, among its duties and functions, has to coordinate, in consultation with the Commission (more specifically with the Directorate General for Health and Consumers), the methods employed in the Member States for
diagnosing the relevant bee diseases, specifically by typing, storing and,
where appropriate, supplying strains of the pathogenic agents to
facilitate the diagnostic service in the EU. The EU RL will organise periodic comparative tests of diagnostic procedures at EU level with the NRLs (National Reference Laboratories) designated by the Member States, in order to provide information on the methods of diagnosis used and the result of the test carried out in the EU.
The COLOSS BEEBOOK provides many additional protocols which can improve pest and pathogen research and its potential impact in these times of pollinator declines. It is therefore a pleasure to acknowledge the work of the BEEBOOK editors and the authors. The relevant specialists in each field have been gathered to constructively list and to criticise existing research protocols. The BEEBOOK is thus an important step forward to the establishment of standardised protocols for the study of honey bee diseases.