BeePocalypse Now: How the arrival of parasitic bee mites will change Australia's ecosystem and agriculture

Varroa mite

Varroa mites are a recent parasitise honey bees (Apis mellifera) and their worldwide spread over the past half-century has caused widespread bee population collapses. Australia has thus far been the only continent without Varroa, though they have just been detected in New South Wales. The mites’ arrival in Australia will change beekeeping, how we pollinate crops, as well as reshape native pollinator ecosystems. This will be a natural experiment allowing us to observe ecological and evolutionary changes in real time, as well as to make decisions that will affect Australian food security.

Our first goal will be to collect pre-varroa data on a large scale in the field, by establishing and monitoring a series of honey bee swarm traps. Data collected from these traps, can be used to address a wide variety of questions. These include:

  • How will honey bee populations evolve in response to this novel parasite? Will they evolve resistance?
  • How does varroa spread? How does it evolve?
  • Varroa spreads viruses, which are what kills the bee colonies. How does this new vector affect bee viral communities?
  • Is there any evidence that bee viruses amplified by varroa make their way into native bees?
  • How does the arrival of varroa change competition among bee species? Does this have an effect on what plants get pollinated?