Bee Health

Bees provide excellent opportunities to improve livelihoods of smallholder farmers through income generation. Diverse hive products can be utilized for commercial purposes. Additionally, bees provide an essential ecosystem service: pollination of crop and wild plants thereby contributing to food security.

However, bees’ health and colony integrity might be impaired by several types of environmental threats, especially pests and pathogens, intensification of agriculture resulting in high exposure to pesticides and habitat degradation. With the establishment of the African Reference Laboratory for Bee Health, which was accredited by the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) as a Collaborating Center for Bee Health, the infrastructure was set-up to develop and apply timely methods for diagnostics of bee pests and pathogens and for the detection of pesticide residues in bee products. This brings baseline estimates for the African continent, which allow to adjust management of bee colonies accordingly. Satellite stations were established in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Liberia. Further work was done on the Indian Ocean island nations.

Active projects

  • Bee health and productivity in Yemen (EIF/WTO) 

Past projects

  • African Reference Laboratory for Bee Health and Satellite Stations (EU)
  • Alternative Livelihoods and Income Security (IFAD)


Pollination is an extremely valuable ecosystem service. It contributes to food security through the pollination of crop plants, but also to the preservation and conservation of plant biodiversity through pollination of wild plants. However, in parts of the world, especially on the northern hemisphere, managed and wild bees are disappearing and populations declining. For the African continent limited data are available. We are closing this gap by studying alternative managed pollinators (e.g. stingless bees), the pollination efficiency of various managed bee species for a variety of crop plants, the diversity and interaction networks of pollinators in agricultural and natural habitats.

Active Projects

  • Stingless bee pollination (Bayer Bee Care)
  • African Plant-Pollinator Interactions (JRS Biodiversity Foundation)
  • Bee hive productivity and landscape context (National Geographic Society)

Bee microbiota

Beneficial honey bee-microbes interactions research project at icipe, focuses on the molecular characterization of bee symbionts, the ‘friendly bacteria’ and their impact in bee physiology. The bee gut microbiome plays an essential role in bee health. Like in humans, it is mostly socially transmitted, largely specific to its host, is involved in the digestion of complex carbohydrate and protects it host against opportunistic pathogens.
Honey bee gut microbiota is composed by a conserved and specific core of nine bacterial species including Snodgrassella alvi, Gilliamela apicola, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species that have being found worldwide. They colonize specific parts of the gut and are transmitted horizontally through faecal-oral route. Whereas there is an increasing evidence of the beneficial role of gut microbiota in bee health, little is known about the molecular mechanism behind. Using genomics and bee-controlled-microbiota associations, we aim to evaluate the impact of African bee microbiota in bee physiology and to develop strategies based on these beneficial associations to improve bee health.

Past projects