As pollinators, bees are cornerstones for terrestrial ecosystem stability and key components in agricultural productivity. All animals, including bees, are associated with a diverse community of microbes, commonly referred to as the microbiome. The bee microbiome is likely to be a crucial factor affecting host health. However, with the exception of a few pathogens, the impacts of most members of the bee microbiome on host health are poorly understood. Further, the evolutionary and ecological forces that shape and change the microbiome are unclear. Here, we discuss recent progress in our understanding of the bee microbiome, and we present challenges associated with its investigation. We conclude that global coordination of research efforts is needed to fully understand the complex and highly dynamic nature of the interplay between the bee microbiome, its host, and the environment. High-throughput sequencing technologies are ideal for exploring complex biological systems, including host-microbe interactions. To maximize their value and to improve assessment of the factors affecting bee health, sequence data should be archived, curated, and analyzed in ways that promote the synthesis of different studies. To this end, the BeeBiome consortium aims to develop an online database which would provide reference sequences, archive metadata, and host analytical resources. The goal would be to support applied and fundamental research on bees and their associated microbes and to provide a collaborative framework for sharing primary data from different research programs, thus furthering our understanding of the bee microbiome and its impact on pollinator health.
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