Adult honey bees host a remarkably consistent gut microbial community that is thought to benefit host health and provide protection against parasites and pathogens. Currently, however, we lack experimental evidence for the causal role of the gut microbiota in protecting the Western honey bees (Apis mellifera
) against their viral pathogens. Here we set out to fill this knowledge gap by investigating how the gut microbiota modulates the virulence of a major honey bee viral pathogen, deformed wing virus (DWV). We found that, upon oral virus exposure, honey bee survival was significantly increased in bees with an experimentally established normal gut microbiota compared to control bees with a perturbed (dysbiotic) gut microbiota. Interestingly, viral titers were similar in bees with normal gut microbiota and dysbiotic bees, pointing to higher viral tolerance in bees with normal gut microbiota. Taken together, our results provide evidence for a positive role of the gut microbiota for honey bee fitness upon viral infection. We hypothesize that environmental stressors altering honey bee gut microbiota composition, e.g., antibiotics in beekeeping or pesticides in modern agriculture, could interact synergistically with pathogens, leading to negative effects on honey bee health and the epidemiology and impact of their viruses.
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