Beehives possess their own distinct microbiomes

Lorenzo A Santorelli, Toby Wilkinson, Ronke Abdulmalik, Yuma Rai, Christopher J Creevey, Sharon Huws, Jorge Gutierrez-Merino

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Honeybees use plant material to manufacture their own food. These insect pollinators visit flowers repeatedly to collect nectar and pollen, which are shared with other hive bees to produce honey and beebread. While producing these products, beehives accumulate a considerable number of microbes, including bacteria that derive from plants and different parts of the honeybees' body. Whether bacteria form similar communities amongst beehives, even if located in close proximity, is an ecologically important question that has been addressed in this study. Specific ecological factors such as the surrounding environment and the beekeeping methods used can shape the microbiome of the beehive as a whole, and eventually influence the health of the honeybees and their ecosystem.

RESULTS: We conducted 16S rRNA meta-taxonomic analysis on honey and beebread samples that were collected from 15 apiaries in the southeast of England to quantify the bacteria associated with different beehives. We observed that honeybee products carry a significant variety of bacterial groups that comprise bee commensals, environmental bacteria and symbionts and pathogens of plants and animals. Remarkably, this bacterial diversity differs not only amongst apiaries, but also between the beehives of the same apiary. In particular, the levels of the bee commensals varied significantly, and their fluctuations correlated with the presence of different environmental bacteria and various apiculture practices.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that every hive possesses their own distinct microbiome and that this very defined fingerprint is affected by multiple factors such as the nectar and pollen gathered from local plants, the management of the apiaries and the bacterial communities living around the beehives. Based on our findings, we suggest that the microbiome of beehives could be used as a valuable biosensor informing of the health of the honeybees and their surrounding environment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental microbiome
Issue number1
Early online date9 Jan 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Jan 2023


  • Apiary
  • Beehives
  • Gut commensals
  • Honey
  • Honeybees
  • Microbiome
  • Pollen


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