Veterinario. Departamento Zoología. Universidad de Córdoba.
Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota. St Paul, Minnesota, USA.
Hygienic behavior and propolis collection are two forms of social immunity displayed by honey bees, Apis mellifera. Hygienic behavior is a well-known defense against the pathogens causing American foulbrood and chalkbrood.
More current studies are focused on the role of hygienic behavior in helping bees resist Varroa destructor. The collection of antimicrobial plant resins and their deposition in the nest cavity as propolis is another form of honey bee social immunity. When colonies of A. mellifera nest in tree cavities, they line the nest interior with a propolis envelope, which serves many purposes, including waterproofing and preventing fungal decay of the hive walls. Colonies in standard beekeeping equipment made of smooth wood do not construct a propolis envelope. Our research shows that honey bees exploit the antimicrobial properties of resins to supplement individual immune function, fight off microorganisms and pathogens, and promote the proliferation of beneficial microbiome communities.
Trials in a commercial beekeeping operation using specially constructed rough-interior boxes that stimulated the bees to make a propolis envelope resulted in large colony population and did not affect honey production. In general, it would benefit the health of honey bee colonies to select for both forms of social immunity: hygienic behavior and propolis collection.