Applied and environmental microbiology

Development of the honey bee gut microbiome throughout the queen-rearing process.

PMID 25724964


The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is used extensively to produce hive products and for crop pollination, but pervasive concerns about colony health and population decline have sparked an interest in the microbial communities that are associated with these important insects. Currently, only the microbiome of workers has been characterized, while little to nothing is known about the bacterial communities that are associated with queens, even though their health and proper function are central to colony productivity. Here, we provide a large-scale analysis of the gut microbiome of honey bee queens during their developmental trajectory and through the multiple colonies that host them as part of modern queen-rearing practices. We found that queen microbiomes underwent a dramatic shift in size and composition as they aged and encountered different worker populations and colony environments. Queen microbiomes were dominated by enteric bacteria in early life but were comprised primarily of alphaproteobacteria at maturity. Furthermore, queen gut microbiomes did not reflect those of the workers who tended them and, indeed, they lacked many of the bacteria that are considered vital to workers. While worker gut microbiotas were consistent across the unrelated colony populations sampled, the microbiotas of the related queens were highly variable. Bacterial communities in mature queen guts were similar in size to those of mature workers and were characterized by dominant and specific alphaproteobacterial strains known to be associated with worker hypopharyngeal glands. Our results suggest a model in which queen guts are colonized by bacteria from workers' glands, in contrast to routes of maternal inoculation for other animal microbiomes.