Bee pathogen transmission dynamics: deposition, persistence and acquisition on flowers.Proc Biol Sci 2019; 286(1903):20190603PB
Infectious diseases are a primary driver of bee decline worldwide, but limited understanding of how pathogens are transmitted hampers effective management. Flowers have been implicated as hubs of bee disease transmission, but we know little about how interspecific floral variation affects transmission dynamics. Using bumblebees (Bombus impatiens), a trypanosomatid pathogen (Crithidia bombi) and three plant species varying in floral morphology, we assessed how host infection and plant species affect pathogen deposition on flowers, and plant species and flower parts impact pathogen survival and acquisition at flowers. We found that host infection with Crithidia increased defaecation rates on flowers, and that bees deposited faeces onto bracts of Lobelia siphilitica and Lythrum salicaria more frequently than onto Monarda didyma bracts . Among flower parts, bracts were associated with the lowest pathogen survival but highest resulting infection intensity in bee hosts. Additionally, we found that Crithidia survival across flower parts was reduced with sun exposure. These results suggest that efficiency of pathogen transmission depends on where deposition occurs and the timing and place of acquisition, which varies among plant species and environmental conditions. This information could be used for development of wildflower mixes that maximize forage while minimizing disease spread.