Floral shape predicts bee-parasite transmission potential
Pinilla-Gallego, M. S., Ng, W. H., Amaral, V. E., & Irwin, R. E. (2022, June 12). ECOLOGY.
Abstract The spread of parasites is one of the primary drivers of population decline of both managed and wild bees. Several bee parasites are transmitted by the shared use of flowers, turning floral resources into potential disease hotspots. However, we know little about how floral morphology and floral species identity affect different steps of the transmission process. Here, we used the gut parasite Crithidia bombi and its primary host, bumble bees ( Bombus spp.), to examine whether floral traits or species identity better predict three basic steps of parasite transmission on flowers: feces deposition on flowers, survival of the parasite on flowers, and acquisition by a new host. We also identified which traits and/or species were most strongly associated with each step in the transmission process. We found that both trait‐ and species‐based models fit the data on deposition of feces and survival of C. bombi on flowers, but that species‐based models provided a better fit compared with trait‐based ones. However, trait‐based models were better at predicting the acquisition of C. bombi on flowers. Although different species tended to support higher fecal deposition or parasite survival, we found that floral shape provided explanatory power for each of the transmission steps. When we assessed overall transmission potential, floral shape had the largest explanatory effect, with wider, shorter flowers promoting higher transmission. Taken together, our results highlight the importance of flower species identity and floral traits in disease transmission dynamics of bee parasites, and floral shape as an important predictor of overall transmission potential. Identifying traits associated with transmission potential may help us create seed mix that presents lower parasite transmission risk for bees for use in pollinator habitat.