A bacterial microbe can keep honeybees healthy, protecting them from poor nutrition according to a new study published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal.
Researchers from Indiana University discovered a specific bacterial microbe that can reduce the effects of nutritional stress on the developing brood. Limited nutrition together with other multiple stressors is one of the main causes of honeybee decline.
Colonies Losses due to Insufficient Nutrition
A national survey in the US shows that beekeepers reported losing 40.5% of their colonies between 2015 and 2016.
The leader of the study, Professor Irene Newton said,
“The effects of poor nutrition are most damaging in the developing larvae of honey bees, who mature into workers unable to meet the needs of their colony. It is therefore essential that we better understand the nutritional landscape experienced by honey bee larvae.”
She continued saying that for colonies to stay healthy throughout the year the honeybees need to collect pollen and nectar from a variety of plants and flowers. Unfortunately this diversity is lacking in the US. She continues,
“We’ve changed the way we use our land in the US. Now we have tons of monoculture crops like corn, which are wind pollinated and therefore no use to bees, covering acres and acres of land. Other crops that bees do pollinate are grown in monoculture as well, limiting the options for bees. If you limit yourself to only eating one thing, that’s not healthy for you. You have to have a broad diet that will help fulfill all of your nutritional needs. Bees are the same way.”
Microbe that Thrives in Royal Jelly
Worker bees feed the brood with nectar, pollen and royal jelly. Prospective queen larvae are fed exclusively on royal jelly, whereas worker and drone larvae will be fed nectar and pollen after a few days. The potent antimicrobial properties of royal jelly are due to its acidity, viscosity and the presence of antimicrobial peptides. Newton said that this means that most microbes that come in contact with royal jelly will die. However, the study discovered that one specific microbe, called Bombella apis actually thrives in royal jelly.
The study also showed that Bombella apis significantly increases the content of amino acid. This makes the royal jelly not only more nutritious but also helps the developing brood to build resilience against nutritional stress. Newton said,
“We have identified a nutritional symbiont of honey bees — a microbe that can help bolster the bees against nutrient scarcity and stress. When we limited bee nutrition during development, we saw a drop in mass for the bees; bees were much smaller than their control counterparts.
When B. apis was added to these same bees, although they had poor nutrition, they reached the same mass as control bees given full nutrition. The microbe was able to make up for the poor diet. This suggests that B. apis could be added to colonies as a probiotic to protect from nutritional stress.”
The study suggests that beekeepers could counteract poor nutrition by adding B. apis as a key supplement. The microbe is able to survive for more than 24 hours in sugar water, meaning that B. apis probiotic could potentially be integrated by beekeepers who supplement their colonies.
The more than six year long research also showed that B. apis is an important part of the queen gut microbiome and protects bees against fungal infections.
“We are excited to explore the other interactions that B. apis has in a colony, to better understand what it’s doing in different environments and the role it plays in association with honey bee queens.”
Audrey J. Parish, Danny W. Rice, Vicki M. Tanquary, Jason M. Tennessen, Irene L. G. Newton. Honey bee symbiont buffers larvae against nutritional stress and supplements lysine. The ISME Journal, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41396-022-01268-x
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Indiana University. "Microbe protects honey bees from poor nutrition, a significant cause of colony loss." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 June 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/06/220627185538.htm>.