Can a Healthy Diet Help Honey Bees?

Can a Healthy Diet Help Honey Bees?

A recent study released by Scientific Report claims that what a honey bee (Apis mellifera) eats can affect its likelihood of survival.

“Bees consuming less protein early in life may be left vulnerable to other factors such as pesticides, disease or harsh winters. Poorer quality diets could, in part, explain why honeybee populations are in decline,” writes the publication Science Daily, following a study conducted by researchers at the University of Lancaster in England.

“Analysis of 35 hives in 20 sites in North West England found that honeybees living near areas of extensive farmland were surviving on a lower protein diet than those in hives near natural grasslands and woodlands,” writes Science Daily.

Other researchers have studied the honey bee and their unique fat body, which is a component of their body said to function much like the human liver. The fat body of a honey bee is said to be able to filter nutrients in the body, and in turn convert some of those nutrients into a form of energy.

The tissues of the fat bodies in bees are said to synthesize lipids, carbohydrates and disperse energy throughout the physical structure of the bee.

“We figured that the fat body might be a particularly revealing tissue to examine, and that did turn out to be the cause,” says entomology professor, Gene Robinson of the Institute of Genomic Biology.

One aspect of the study correlated the poor diets of lower caste honey bees (such as foragers and drones) to shorter lifespans. It is suggested that the vitamin-fortified royal jelly fed to the queen may be one contributing factor to the reason she lives much longer.

Study leaders examined foraging bees and the metabolic rate they stored energy in the fat body when given carbohydrate-rich diets.

“We reasoned that the foragers might be more sensitive to the effects of different carbohydrate sources,” says Robinson.

The substances fed to the forager bees was noted to be high-fructose corn syrup (sucrose) and honey. Researchers found that those fed honey had substantially different gene activity.

“Our results parallel suggestive findings in humans. It seems that in both bees and humans, sugar is not sugar- different carbohydrate sources can act differently in the body,” Robinson concludes. “Our results further show honey induces gene expression changes on a more global scale, and it now becomes important to investigate whether these changes can affect bee health.”

According to researchers with Lancaster University’s Environment Centre, honey bees have varying nutritional needs depending on their stage in life. For example, many larvae, or brood, have higher protein requirements. Not receiving enough protein early in life could mean that a honey bee is more susceptible to death and disease.

“Honeybees have different nutritional requirements at different stages of their lives, with larvae primary requiring protein,” says Philip Donkersley with Lancaster University’s Environment Centre. “We already know from previous studies that larvae with lower dietary protein intake may not live as long and may have reduced immune function. This study shows a clear link between landscape and the nutritional ecology of insects.”

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