Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Dennis L. Welker


Dennis L. Welker


Rosalind R. James


Donald W. Roberts


John R. Stevens


Carol D. von Dohlen


The health of pollinators, especially bees, is of the utmost importance to success of many agricultural ecosystems. Microorganisms can cause diseases in bees; such microbes are pathogenic. The ability of a pathogen to cause harm to its host (such as a bee) is termed its virulence. Studying the evolution of different levels of virulence can lead researchers to a better understanding of pathogens, and potentially predict how much harm a pathogen can cause in the future. We studied the evolution of virulence levels for a fungal disease of bees. This group of fungi is composed of 28 species, and some cause a disease in bees called chalkbrood while others do not. Using what we know about virulence evolution we wanted to see if the pathogens could infect all bees, if the pathogens varied in virulence when infecting at the same time as another pathogen, and if solitary bees had any behavioral adaptations that might increase or decrease chalkbrood infection.

By using DNA sequences, the relationship between the genetic structures of each of the fungal species was studied, and we found that pathogens of solitary bees grouped together while pathogens of social bees (honey bees) were not part of this group. We then found that a solitary bee pathogen did not infect honey bees very well, and vice versa. The nuances of the relationship between two solitary bee pathogens were examined more closely to determine how the two pathogens interact in this bee. In this case, under varying conditions of infection, one pathogen always maintained a similar level of virulence and spore production, while the other pathogen varied in these measures. In addition, when doses of these fungi were fed to bee larvae at different times, more bees survived than when the doses were given at the same time, suggesting that bee immune responses are very important. Finally, we found no evidence of any specific behaviors of solitary bees exposed to infective spores that would suggest these bees have behaviors that are evolved to alter chalkbrood levels in populations.



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