Infra-Population and -Community Dynamics of the Parasites Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae, and Consequences for Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Hosts
Nosema spp. fungal gut parasites are among myriad possible explanations for contemporary increased mortality of western honey bees (Apis mellifera, hereafter honey bee) in many regions of the world. Invasive Nosema ceranae is particularly worrisome because some evidence suggests it has greater virulence than its congener N. apis. N. ceranae appears to have recently switched hosts from Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) and now has a nearly global distribution in honey bees, apparently displacing N. apis. We examined parasite reproduction and effects of N. apis, N. ceranae, and mixed Nosema infections on honey bee hosts in laboratory experiments. Both infection intensity and honey bee mortality were significantly greater for N. ceranae than for N. apis or mixed infections; mixed infection resulted in mortality similar to N. apis parasitism and reduced spore intensity, possibly due to inter-specific competition. This is the first long-term laboratory study to demonstrate lethal consequences of N. apis and N. ceranae and mixed Nosema parasitism in honey bees, and suggests that differences in reproduction and intra-host competition may explain apparent heterogeneous exclusion of the historic parasite by the invasive species.