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Microbe protects honey bees from poor nutrition, a significant cause of colony loss

Microbe protects honeybees from poor nutrition, a leading cause of colony loss

Many honeybees in the US lack the floral diversity they need to follow a balanced diet, leading to poor nutrition. Credit: James Brosher, Indiana University

Indiana University researchers have identified a specific bacterial microbe that, when fed to honeybee larvae, can reduce the effects of nutritional stress on developing bees — one of the leading causes of honeybee decline.

Their findings were recently published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal

Humans depend on honey bees for food security. Since they will pollinate almost anything, honey bees are extremely useful for agriculture. But in recent decades, the honeybee population has experienced a dramatic decline caused by the effects of multiple stressors, the most pervasive of which is restricted diet. According to a national survey, beekeepers in the United States alone lost 40.5 percent of their managed colonies between 2015 and 2016.

“The effects of poor nutrition are most damaging on the developing honey bee larvae, which grow into workers unable to meet the needs of their colony,” said Irene Newton, a professor in the IU’s Department of Biology. Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. , who led the investigation. “It is therefore essential that we better understand the nutritional landscape of honeybee larvae.”

Newton said honeybees need to collect pollen and nectar from various plants and flowers to keep their colonies healthy all year round. But many bees in the US lack this floral diversity.

“We’ve changed the way we use our land in the US,” Newton said. “Now we have tons of monoculture crops like maize, which are wind pollinated and therefore of no use to bees, occupying acres and acres of land. Other crops pollinating bees are also grown in monoculture, limiting the options for bees.

“If you limit yourself to eating just one thing, it’s not healthy for you. You need to have a broad diet that will meet all your nutritional needs. Bees are the same way.”

Honey bee larvae are fed by their sister bees. Their diet consists of ingested ingredients such as nectar and pollen, as well as royal jelly – a bee gland secretion that is complex and nutritious. If larvae are destined to become queens, they will eat royal jelly all their lives. If they are workers, their diet will shift to nectar and pollen after a few days.

Microbe protects honeybees from poor nutrition, a leading cause of colony loss

The researchers’ findings suggest that beekeepers could potentially integrate a B. apis supplement into their colonies’ diets to counteract the negative impact of poor nutrition. Credit: James Brosher, Indiana University

Not only is royal jelly more nutritious than nectar and pollen, but it has long been known to possess potent antimicrobial properties due to its acidity, viscosity and the presence of antimicrobial peptides. This means most microbes exposed to royal jelly die, Newton said.

Except one.

According to their new study, Newton and her research team found that a specific microbe-Bombella apic– is the only larval-associated bacterium that can truly thrive in royal jelly. They thought so too B. apis makes royal jelly more nutritious by significantly increasing its amino acid content, which helps develop bees to resist nutritional stress.

“We’ve identified a honeybee nutritional symbiote — a microbe that can help bees counter food scarcity and stress,” Newton said. “When we restricted bee nutrition during development, we saw a decrease in mass for the bees; bees were much smaller than their control counterparts.

“When B. apis was added to the same bees, although they had poor diets, they achieved the same mass as control bees fed complete diets. The microbe was able to make up for the bad diet. This suggests that B. apis could be added to colonies as a probiotic to protect against nutritional stress.”

The results suggest that B. apis may have potential as an important adjunct to future beekeepers’ efforts to counteract the negative impact of poor nutrition on honeybee health. B. apis can survive in sugar water for more than 24 hours, so beekeepers already replenishing their colonies may be able to B. apis probiotics in their bees’ diets.

This research builds on more than six years of previous studies by Newton and her colleagues, including findings that: B. apis protects bees from fungal infections and is an important part of the queen’s gut microbiome.

“We are excited to explore the other interactions that B. apis has in a colony, to better understand what it does in different environments and the role it plays in association with honeybee queens,” Newton said.


Researchers identify microbe that protects bees from fungal infections


More information:
Audrey J. Parish et al, Honeybee symbiote buffers larvae against feeding stress and replenishes lysine, The ISME magazine (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41396-022-01268-x

Provided by Indiana University


Quote: Microbe protects honeybees from malnutrition, a leading cause of colony loss (2022, June 27) retrieved June 27, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-microbe-honey-bees-poor- nutrition. html

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