Tetracycline Exposure Alters Key Gut Microbiota in Africanized Honey Bees (Apis mellifera scutellata x spp.)

Kilmer Oliveira Soares, Celso José Bruno de Oliveira, Adriana Evangelista Rodrigues, Priscylla Carvalho Vasconcelos, Núbia Michelle Vieira da Silva, Octavio Gomes da Cunha Filho, Christopher Madden, Vanessa L. Hale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Honey bees play a critical role in ecosystem health, biodiversity maintenance, and crop yield. Antimicrobials, such as tetracyclines, are used widely in agriculture, medicine, and in bee keeping, and bees can be directly or indirectly exposed to tetracycline residues in the environment. In European honey bees, tetracycline exposure has been linked with shifts in the gut microbiota that negatively impact bee health. However, the effects of antimicrobials on Africanized honey bee gut microbiota have not been examined. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of tetracycline exposure on the gut microbial community of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata x spp.), which are important pollinators in South, Central, and North America. Bees (n = 1,000) were collected from hives in Areia-PB, Northeastern Brazil, placed into plastic chambers and kept under controlled temperature and humidity conditions. The control group (CON) was fed daily with syrup (10 g) consisting of a 1:1 solution of demerara sugar and water, plus a solid protein diet (10 g) composed of 60% soy extract and 40% sugar syrup. The tetracycline group (TET) was fed identically but with the addition of tetracycline hydrochloride (450 μg/g) to the sugar syrup. Bees were sampled from each group before (day 0), and after tetracycline exposure (days 3, 6, and 9). Abdominal contents dissected out of each bee underwent DNA extraction and 16S rRNA sequencing (V3-V4) on an Illumina MiSeq. Sequences were filtered and processed through QIIME2 and DADA2. Microbial community composition and diversity and differentially abundant taxa were evaluated by treatment and time. Bee gut microbial composition (Jaccard) and diversity (Shannon) differed significantly and increasingly over time and between CON and TET groups. Tetracycline exposure was associated with decreased relative abundances of Bombella and Fructobacillus, along with decreases in key core microbiota such as Snodgrassella, Gilliamella, Rhizobiaceae, and Apibacter. These microbes are critical for nutrient metabolism and pathogen defense, and it is possible that decreased abundances of these microbes could negatively affect bee health. Considering the global ecological and economic importance of honey bees as pollinators, it is critical to understand the effects of agrochemicals including antimicrobials on honey bees.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number716660
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Sep 29 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Africanized bees
  • Apis mellifera scutellata
  • antibiotics
  • antimicrobials
  • gut microbiota
  • tetracycline

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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