New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2006) 30(1): 87- 102

Modelling biocontrol of Varroa destructor using a benign haplotype as a competitive antagonist

Research Article
I. Vetharaniam *
N. D. Barlow  
  1. AgResearch Limited, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

The two haplotypes of Varroa destructor that have been identified as parasites of the Western honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) show disparate levels of virulence towards honeybee colonies. The Korea haplotype has been associated with severe colony mortality, whereas untreated colonies of European A. mellifera have survived long-term infestation by the Japan haplotype. The possible existence of a benign haplotype of V. destructor raises the prospect that it be used to “inoculate” colonies to provide biocontrol of the virulent haplotype. The feasibility of such a strategy was investigated using a mathematical model. Competition for resources during reproduction is known to reduce varroa mites’ reproduction rates as their infestation levels increase. Results from modelling suggested this density-dependent effect is sufficient for an established benign population to prevent the virulent population reaching destructive levels if a colony is subject to sporadic influxes of virulent mites. A colony faced with a continuous influx of mites could be protected if the proportion of virulent mites in the influx were below a threshold level (dependent on length of breeding season and intensity of influx). This condition might be achieved by “inoculating” neighbouring apiaries and controlling feral colonies in the vicinity. Decreased brood cell invasion rate by the benign haplotype decreased the threshold level. Any reproductive isolation between the benign and virulent haplotypes would cause further reproductive suppression, driving sporadic influxes of the virulent haplotype to extinction and conferring greater tolerance to a colony faced with a virulent influx. Increased colony resistance to varroa in the model was synergistic with the inoculation of colonies in the absence of reproductive isolation, but potentially antagonistic in its presence—although not to an extent that would preclude their joint use.