Investigation of landscape risk factors for the recent spread of varroa mite (Varroa destructor) in European honeybee (Apis mellifera) colonies in New South Wales, Australia

Submitted: 13 March 2024
Accepted: 8 June 2024
Published: 4 July 2024
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In June 2022, an exotic pest of the European honeybee (Apis mellifera), the varroa mite (Varroa destructor), was detected in surveillance hives at the Port of Newcastle, New South Wales (NSW). Previously, Australia remained the only continent free of the varroa mite. In September 2023, the National Management Group decided to shift the focus of the response from eradication to management. It is estimated that the establishment of varroa mite in Australia could lead to more than $70 million in losses each year due to greatly reduced pollination services. Currently, there are no reported studies on the epidemiology of varroa mite in NSW because it is such a recent outbreak, and there is little knowledge of the factors associated with the presence of V. destructor in the Australian context. We sourced publicly available varroa mite outbreak reports from June 22 to December 19, 2022, to determine if urbanization, land use, and distance from the incursion site are associated with the detection of varroa mite infestation in European honeybee colonies in NSW. The outcome investigated was epidemic day, relative to the first detected premises (June 22, 2022). The study population was comprised of 107 premises, which were declared varroa-infested. The median epidemic day was day 37 (July 29, 2022), and a bimodal distribution was observed from the epidemic curve, which was reflective of an intermittent source pattern of spread. We found that premises were detected to be infected with varroa mite earlier in urban areas [median epidemic day 25 (July 17, 2022)] compared to rural areas [median epidemic day 37.5 (July 29, 2022)]. Infected premises located in areas without cropping, forests, and irrigation were detected earlier in the outbreak [median epidemic days 23.5 (July 15, 2022), 30 (July 22, 2022), and 15 (July 7, 2022), respectively] compared to areas with cropping, forests, and irrigation [median epidemic days 50 (August 11, 2022), 43 (August 4, 2022), and 47 (August 8, 2022), respectively]. We also found that distance from the incursion site was not significantly correlated with epidemic day. Urbanization and land use are potential factors for the recent spread of varroa mite in European honeybee colonies in NSW. This knowledge is essential to managing the current varroa mite outbreak and preventing future mass varroa mite spread events.

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How to Cite

Phaboutdy, E., & Ward, M. (2024). Investigation of landscape risk factors for the recent spread of varroa mite (<i>Varroa destructor</i>) in European honeybee (<i>Apis mellifera</i>) colonies in New South Wales, Australia. Geospatial Health, 19(1). https://doi.org/10.4081/gh.2024.1282