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Epidemiology of a major honey bee pathogen, deformed wing virus: Potential worldwide replacement of genotype A by genotype B

The western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is of major economic and ecological importance, with elevated rates of colony losses in temperate regions over the last two decades thought to be largely caused by the exotic ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor and deformed wing virus (DWV), which the mite transmits. DWV currently exists as two main genotypes: the formerly widespread DWV-A and the more recently described and rapidly expanding DWV-B. It is an excellent system to understand viral evolution and the replacement of one viral variant by another. Here we synthesise published results on the distribution and prevalence of DWV-A and -B over the period 2008–2021 and present novel data for Germany, Italy and the UK to suggest that (i) DWV-B has rapidly expanded worldwide since its first description in 2004 and (ii) that it is potentially replacing DWV-A. Both genotypes are also found in wild bee species. Based on a simple mathematical model, we suggest that interference between viral genotypes when co-infecting the same host is key to understanding their epidemiology. We finally discuss the consequences of genotype replacement for beekeeping and for wild pollinator species.

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