Honey Bee Parasites Feed on Fatty Organs, Not Blood

Phys.org University of Maryland January 14, 2019

In this electron micrograph, a parasitic mite,  Varroa destructor , is wedged between the abdominal plates of a honey bee's exoskeleton. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

In this electron micrograph, a parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, is wedged between the abdominal plates of a honey bee's exoskeleton. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

Honey bee colonies around the world are at risk from a variety of threats, including pesticides, diseases, poor nutrition and habitat loss. Recent research suggests that one threat stands well above the others: a parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, which specializes in attacking honey bees.

For decades, researchers have assumed that varroa mites feed on blood, like many of their mite and tick cousins. But new University of Maryland-led research suggests that varroa mites instead have a voracious appetite for a honey bee organ called the fat body, which serves many of the same vital functions carried out by the human liver, while also storing food and contributing to bees' immune systems.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on January 14, 2019, could transform researchers' understanding of the primary threats to honey bees while pointing the way toward more effective mite treatments in the future.

"Bee researchers often refer to three Ps: parasites, pesticides and poor nutrition. Many studies have shown that varroa is the biggest issue. But when compromised by varroa, colonies are also more susceptible to the other two," said UMD alumnus Samuel Ramsey (Ph.D. '18, entomology), the lead author of the paper. "Now that we know that the fat body is varroa's target, this connection is now much more obvious. Losing fat body tissue impairs a bee's ability to detoxify pesticides and robs them of vital food stores. The fat body is absolutely essential to honey bee survival."

In addition to breaking down toxins and storing nutrients, honey bee fat bodies produce antioxidants and help to manage the immune system. The fatty organs also play an important role in the process of metamorphosis, regulating the timing and activity of key hormones. Fat bodies also produce the wax that covers parts of bees' exoskeletons, keeping water in and diseases out.

According to Ramsey, the assumption that varroa mites consume honey bee blood (more accurately called hemolymph in insects) has persisted since the first paper on the topic was published in the 1960s. Because this paper was written in Russian, Ramsey said, many researchers opted to cite the first English-language papers that cited the original study.

In this cross-section of a honey bee's abdomen, a parasitic varroa mite (orange) can be seen lodged between the bee's abdominal plates, where the mite feeds on honey bee fat body tissue. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

In this cross-section of a honey bee's abdomen, a parasitic varroa mite (orange) can be seen lodged between the bee's abdominal plates, where the mite feeds on honey bee fat body tissue. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

"The initial work was only sufficient to show the total volume of a meal consumed by a mite," Ramsey added. "It can be a lot easier to cite a recent summary instead of the original work. Had the first paper been read more widely, many folks might have questioned these assumptions sooner."

Ramsey noted several observations that led him to question whether varroa mites were feeding on something other than hemolymph. First, insect hemolymph is very low in nutrients. To grow and reproduce at the rates they do, varroa mites would need to consume far more hemolymph than they would be able to acquire from a single bee.

Second, varroa mites' excrement is very dry—contrary to what one would expect from an entirely liquid blood diet. Lastly, varroa mites' mouthparts appear to be adapted for digesting soft tissues with enzymes then consuming the resulting mush. By contrast, blood-feeding mites have very different mouthparts, specifically adapted for piercing membranes and sucking fluid.

The first and most straightforward experiment Ramsey and his collaborators performed was to observe where on the bees' bodies the varroa mites tended to attach themselves for feeding. If the mites grabbed on to random locations, Ramsey reasoned, that would suggest that they were in fact feeding on hemolymph, which is distributed evenly throughout the body. On the other hand, if they had a preferred site on the body, that could provide an important clue to their preferred meal.

"When they feed on immature bees, mites will eat anywhere. But in adult bees, we found a very strong preference for the underside of the bees' abdomen," Ramsey said. "More than 90 percent of mites we found on adults fed there. As it happens, fat body tissue is spread throughout the bodies of immature bees. As the bees mature, the tissue migrates to the underside of the abdomen. The connection was hard to ignore, but we needed more evidence."

Ramsey and his team then directly imaged the wound sites where varroa mites gnawed on the bees' abdomens. Using a technique called freeze fracturing, the researchers used liquid nitrogen to freeze the mites and their bee hosts, essentially taking a physical "snapshot" of the mites' feeding habits in action. Using powerful scanning electron microscopes to visualize the wound sites, Ramsey saw clear evidence that the mites were feeding on fat body tissue.

This microscopic image shows a varroa mite that has consumed honey bee fat body tissue tagged with Nile red, a fat-soluble fluorescent dye. Observing this red fluorescence in the mites' digestive systems helped researchers determine that varroa mites feed on honey bee fat body tissue--not blood, as previously assumed. Credit: UMD/USDA/ PNAS

This microscopic image shows a varroa mite that has consumed honey bee fat body tissue tagged with Nile red, a fat-soluble fluorescent dye. Observing this red fluorescence in the mites' digestive systems helped researchers determine that varroa mites feed on honey bee fat body tissue--not blood, as previously assumed. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

"The images gave us an excellent view into the wound sites and what the mites' mouthparts were doing," Ramsey said. "We could see digested pieces of fat body cells. The mites were turning the bees into 'cream of honey bee soup.' An organism the size of a bee's face is climbing on and eating an organ. It's scary stuff. But we couldn't yet verify that blood wasn't also being consumed."

To further shore up their case, Ramsey and his colleagues fed bees with one of two fluorescent dyes: uranine, a water-soluble dye that glows yellow, and Nile red, a fat-soluble dye that glows red. If the mites were consuming hemolymph, Ramsey expected to see a bright yellow glow in the mites' bellies after feeding. If they were feeding on fat bodies, on the other hand, Ramsey predicted a telltale red glow.

"When we saw the first mite's gut, it was glowing bright red like the sun. This was proof positive that the fat body was being consumed," Ramsey said. "We've been talking about these mites like they're vampires, but they're not. They're more like werewolves. We've been trying to drive a stake through them, but turns out we needed a silver bullet."

To drive the proverbial final nail into the coffin of the idea that mites feed on hemolymph, Ramsey performed one last experiment. First, he painstakingly perfected the ability to raise varroa mites on an artificial dietary regimen—hardly an easy task for a parasite that prefers meals from a live host. Then, he fed them diets composed of hemolymph or fat body tissue, with a few mixtures of the two for good measure.

The results were striking: mites fed a diet of pure hemolymph starved, while those fed fat body tissue thrived and even produced eggs.

"These results have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the damage done to bees by mites," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a professor of entomology at UMD and a co-author of the study, who also served as Ramsey's advisor. "Fat bodies serve so many crucial functions for bees. It makes so much more sense now to see how the harm to individual bees plays out in the ways that we already know varroa does damage to honey bee colonies. Importantly, it also opens up so many new opportunities for more effective treatments and targeted approaches to control mites."

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-01-honey-bee-parasites-fatty-blood.html#jCp

More information: Samuel D. Ramsey el al., "Varroa destructor feeds primarily on honey bee fat body tissue and not hemolymph," PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1818371116 

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 

Provided by: University of Maryland

Finnish Scientists Develop Edible Insect Vaccine To Save Bees

DOGO News By Ariel Kim  January 10, 2019

European honey bee extracts nectar from an Aster flower (Credit: John Severns/ Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

European honey bee extracts nectar from an Aster flower (Credit: John Severns/ Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

In addition to providing us with delicious honey, the hardworking honey bees also pollinate about a third of food crops and almost 90 percent of wild grasses, like alfalfa, used to feed livestock. Hence, it is not surprising that their declining population, caused by climate change, habitat loss, and deadly microbial diseases, has researchers scrambling to find ways to protect the vulnerable insects, which are so crucial to our existence. Now, scientists from the University of Helsinki in Finland have found a way to help honey bees fight off infectious diseases with a sweet, edible vaccine!

Vaccinating non-humans is not a novel idea. Domesticated dogs and cats have been inoculatedagainst rabies, Lyme disease, and even the flu for many years. However, using them to protect insects has never been considered possible. That’s because vaccinations entail injecting a dead, or weakened, version of the virus into the body and allowing the immune system to create antibodies to fend off the disease. Since insects do not possess antibodies, they lack a "memory" for fighting infections and therefore do not benefit from traditional vaccinations.

Some of the foods that could be affected if honey bees disappear (Credit: Specialtyfood.com)

Some of the foods that could be affected if honey bees disappear (Credit: Specialtyfood.com)

Dalial Freitak, a biologist at the University of Helsinki, came up with the idea of an edible insect vaccine in 2014, after observing that when a moth was fed certain bacteria, it was able to pass on immunity to its offspring. Meanwhile, her colleague, Heli Salmela, had noticed that vitellogenin, a bee protein, appeared to have a similar effect to invasive bacteria in bees.

"So they could actually convey something by eating. I just didn't know what the mechanism was. At the time, as I started my post-doc work in Helsinki, I met with Heli Salmela, who was working on honeybees and a protein called vitellogenin. I heard her talk, and I was like: OK, I could make a bet that it is your protein that takes my signal from one generation to another. We started to collaborate, got funding from the Academy of Finland, and that was actually the beginning of PrimeBEE," Freitak explains.

How the American foulbrood bacteria invade and decimate hives (Credit: Current Opinion in Insect Science/Sciencedirect.com)

How the American foulbrood bacteria invade and decimate hives (Credit: Current Opinion in Insect Science/Sciencedirect.com)

The first PrimeBEE vaccine, which is still undergoing safety tests, aims to protect honeybees against American foulbrood, or AFB, an infectious disease which affects bee colonies worldwide. The harmful bacteria, introduced to the hive by nurse bees, feed on larvae and generate spores which spread and infect the entire hive. “It's a death sentence for a hive or colony to be diagnosed with the disease,” says Toni Burnham, president of the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance in Washington.

The researchers, who unveiled their findings on October 18, 2018, say the vaccine teaches honeybees to identify harmful diseases, similar to how antibodies function in humans and animals. They explain, "When the queen bee eats something with pathogens in it, the pathogen signature molecules are bound by vitellogenin. Vitellogenin then carries these signature molecules into the queen's eggs, where they work as inducers for future immune responses." The researchers believe that once the first PrimeBEE vaccine is perfected, defense against other pathogens will be easy to create.

“We need to help honey bees, absolutely. Even improving their life a little would have a big effect on the global scale. Of course, the honey bees have many other problems as well: pesticides, habitat loss and so on, but diseases come hand in hand with these life-quality problems,” Freitak says. “If we can help honey bees to be healthier and if we can save even a small part of the bee population with this invention, I think we have done our good deed and saved the world a little bit.”

Resources: Smithsonianmag.com, NPR.org, mnn.com.

Finding An Elusive Mutation That Turns Altruism Into Selfish Behavior Among Honeybees

Phys.org    From Oxford University Press     January 8, 2019

A. m. capensis pseudoqueens  (black bees) among  A. m. scutellata  host workers (yellow bees). Credit: Picture taken by Mike Allsopp

A. m. capensis pseudoqueens (black bees) among A. m. scutellata host workers (yellow bees). Credit: Picture taken by Mike Allsopp

Among the social insects, bees have developed a strong and rich social network, where busy worker bees tend to the queen, who in turn, controls reproduction for the benefit of the hive.

But the South African Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis) can flout these rules. In a process of genetic trickery called thelytoky syndrome, worker bee females ignore the queen's orders and begin to reproduce on their own.

Scientists, in their own altruistic effort to protect the Cape honey bees from a recent devastating blight, transferred the Cape honey bees to a northeastern region—-only to see the Cape bees wreak havoc among colonies of the neighboring honey bee subspecies A. m. scutellata.

The A. capensis bees turned from altruistic workers to the guests who would not leave—-becoming social parasites that forage on their own into foreign colonies, reproducing an army of loyal workers, stealing all the honey, and eventually, dethroning the queen and taking over the host colony.

This type of behavior, despite making for bad neighbors, makes a lot of evolutionary sense. If the queen is lost, then the thelytoky syndrome at one point must have first kicked in as a life raft to save the colony. But if this is the case, why hasn't it become a more widespread phenomenon for other bee species?

Recently, scientists have combed through bee genomes to narrow down the genetics behind thelytoky, and linked these to candidate genes in the past few years—-but to date, the master genetic switch has not been found.

Now, for the first time, a group led by Denise Aumer and Eckart Stolle, working in the lab of Robin Moritz at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg's Institute of Biology, have finally found the root cause responsible for thelytoky. The findings were published in the advanced online edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

"Uncovering the genetic architecture underlying thelytoky is a big step towards understanding this mode of reproduction, not only in the Cape honeybee, but also in other insect species in general (e.g. many invasive ants reproduce in a very similar fashion)," said Stolle. "After having worked on the topic for so many years with so much efforts by our colleagues and us to add pieces to the puzzle and also with the one or other dead end, it is a huge accomplishment for us to have come to this point."

By comparing the genomes of Cape honeybees which produce diploid female offspring (thelytoky) with those producing haploid male offspring (arrhenotoky, i.e. the expected mode of reproduction), they identified a candidate gene located on chromosome one, LOC409096, and proposed to call it Thelytoky (Th), as the major regulator of the selfish worker bee reproduction. Thelytoky encodes a receptor protein with a transmembrane helix and a signal peptide at the extracellular N-terminus, indicating that it is linked to a secretory pathway.

A. m. capensis pseudoqueen  (bee with white tag on thorax) eliciting retinue behavior in the surrounding  A. m. scutellata  host bees. Credit: Picture taken by Mike Allsopp.

A. m. capensis pseudoqueen (bee with white tag on thorax) eliciting retinue behavior in the surrounding A. m. scutellata host bees. Credit: Picture taken by Mike Allsopp.

Specifically, a single mutational substitution in exon 7 of Thelytoky causes a change from the polar amino acid threonine to the non-polar amino acid isoleucine in the protein sequence, leading to substantial structural modifications and likely functional consequences. In addition, they confirmed their genetic data by showing that RNA levels of Thelytoky were elevated only in the selfish bees. They also performed DNA sequencing of another honey bee population and found the same exact mutation amongst the socially parasitic lineage of the Cape honey bee, but not among workers of other honey bee subspecies.

From the study of the genetics, they determined that Cape bee selfishness exhibits a dominant inheritance pattern, which means that only one mutation that needs to be passed down to perform the selfish genetic switch.

But the genetics are a bit more complicated because it turns out that the selfish gene still needs its altruistic partner (known as the social, or arrhenotoky form of the gene).

"The genetic control of the thelytoky syndrome is regulated by a more complex genetic mechanism than previously assumed," said Aumer. "The thelytoky allele (Th) is not recessive, i.e., needing two copies of the mutated gene, but rather a dominant allele. This dominant mutation expresses the phenotype (thelytoky) when one copy of the gene is the mutated variant, and the other copy is the one variant typical for the Cape honey bee."

"But at the same time, it appears that having two copies of the mutated variant is detrimental, perhaps even lethal, while having two copies of the "regular" Cape bee variant of this genes makes them reproduce normally. Any other combination of the mutated variant with another subspecies' variant would be non-matching alleles and would result in either non-functional or fertile normally reproducing (arrhenotokous) phenotypes. Therefore, the Cape bee typical Th variant seems to complement the mutated Th variant in a way that the offspring is fertile and expresses the unique set of phenotypes referred to as thelytoky syndrome."

Because only one gene can get passed on during reproduction, the genetics not only explain why breeders, for the past 150 years, have been mostly unsuccessful with producing thelytokous workers from mating the Cape bees with others, but also why the thelytoky behavior hasn't spread into other bee populations.

Genetically, it turns out you still need a little altruism to be truly selfish. When only one is passed on from interbreeding, the effect is lost without its partner gene.

"On a broader level, the identified genetic architecture of thelytoky in honey bees may serve as a model for other eusocial species with similar thelytokous reproduction, in particular for novel ant model systems, such as Platythyrea punctata and the clonal raider ant Ooceraea biroi," wrote the authors in the Molecular Biology and Evolution publication.

And just like the striking case of malaria and hemoglobin genes in humans, the study shows how just a single change in the DNA can have such a dramatic effect on a species, or in this case, changing the behavior of a bee from a helper to a mercenary.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-01-elusive-mutation-altruism-selfish-behavior.html#jCp
Journal reference: Molecular Biology and Evolution  
Provided by: Oxford University Press

Bee Mite Arrival in Hawaii Causes Pathogen Changes in Honeybee Predators

UC Riverside By Iqbal Pittalwala January 8, 2019

bee mite arrival in Hawaii.jpg

UC Riverside-led research, done on the Big Island, shows effects of mite introduction have cascaded through entire pathogen communities

The reddish-brown varroa mite, a parasite of honeybees and accidentally introduced in the Big Island of Hawaii in 2007-08, is about the size of a pinhead. Yet, its effects there are concerning to entomologists because the mite is found nearly everywhere honeybees are present.

A team led by entomologists at the University of California, Riverside, performed a study on the Big Island and found viruses associated with the mite have spilled over into the western yellowjacket, a honeybee predator and honey raider. The result is a hidden, yet remarkable, change in the genetic diversity of viruses associated with the larger pathogen community of the mite and wasp, with repercussions yet to be understood.

Erin Wilson Rankin examines a western yellowjacket. (I. Pittalwala/UC Riverside)

Erin Wilson Rankin examines a western yellowjacket. (I. Pittalwala/UC Riverside)

“Already, we are seeing that the arrival of the varroa mite in honeybee populations in Hawaii has favored a few virulent strains,” said Erin E. Wilson Rankin, an assistant professor of entomologyand lead investigator of the study published Jan. 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “We do not know what the effects of these strains will be. What we know is that the effects of the varroa mite have cascaded through entire communities in Hawaii and probably around the world.”

In particular, the researchers saw a loss in the diversity of deformed wing virus, or DWV, variants, resulting in new strains whose impact is hard to predict. DWV, widespread in honeybee populations globally and made up of several variants, is thought to be partly responsible for global die-off of honeybee colonies. DWV infects bumblebees and has been detected in other insects. The yellowjacket wasps can acquire this virus directly or indirectly from honeybees.

The western honey bee.

The western honey bee.

By a stroke of luck, the researchers had the benefit of studying the honeybee and yellowjacket populations on the Big Island both before and after the varroa mite was introduced there. They saw more association of honeybees with pathogens after the appearance of the mite. Indeed, some pathogens were detected in the honeybee and wasp populations only after the mite was introduced to the island.

“This is one of the first descriptions of pathogens in the western yellowjacket,” Wilson Rankin said. “Evidently, pathogens known to be associated with varroa have spread into non-bee species, despite the mite itself being a bee specialist. We suspect the spread in yellowjackets is partly due to the wasp’s propensity to prey upon bees, which is one way the wasps may be exposed to the pathogens.”

Wilson Rankin noted the pathogens are often incorrectly called “bee pathogens” because they were first found in bees. The pathogens, however, are found in a wide variety of insects.

“We are seeing entirely different predators being affected,” she said. “The mite is not vectoring viruses to the wasps. The viral spread is happening through predation and through flowers. Predators may be passing on pathogens to other species. The yellowjacket, for example, preys on both honeybees and native bees, and may explain why both bee populations are showing the same viruses.”

Wilson Rankin explained wasps have been overlooked by researchers because these arthropods do not have “warm, fuzzy, and furry connotations.”

The western yellowjacket is a honey bee predator and honey-raider.

The western yellowjacket is a honey bee predator and honey-raider.

“They look scary,” she added. “People also get stung by them. People are more afraid of wasps than bees. But our work shows we can examine the health of the arthropod community by using species other than bees. We show for the first time that a predator is being affected by a parasite that does not even infect it.”

The researchers sampled 25-45 bees and wasps for one part of the study, and then about 100 individuals, analyzed in groups, for each of the species during the period before and after the mite was introduced to the Big Island. The researchers did not study native bees, focusing instead on honeybees and yellowjacket wasps, neither of which is native to Hawaii. 

“Our findings suggest that pathogen transmission from domesticated bees, such as honeybees, may be important even for non-bee insects like the wasps we studied,” said Kevin J. Loope, the research paper’s first author, who worked as a postdoctoral scholar in the Wilson Rankin lab during the study. “The impacts may be more subtle than previously observed: we found changes in the genetic variation of viruses found in the wasps, but not changes in the amount of virus. These findings suggest we should look more broadly and in greater detail to figure out how moving domesticated bees for agriculture may influence wild populations of insects.

Loope, now a research assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Georgia Southern University, explained that finding overlap in the pathogens of yellowjacket wasps and domesticated bees also means that using pathogens to control undesirable wasp populations is risky.

“Any biological control efforts using pathogens should be carefully evaluated to prevent inadvertent harm to beneficial bees,” he said.

Kevin Loope excavates a yellowjacket nest in Volcano, Hawaii. (Jessica Purcell/UC Riverside)

Kevin Loope excavates a yellowjacket nest in Volcano, Hawaii. (Jessica Purcell/UC Riverside)

He added that the research team was surprised to find a dramatic difference in the viral genetic diversity between the wasp samples from the two periods — before and after the varroa mite was detected on the Big Island.

“We had predicted we would observe a decline in wasp viral diversity matching the decline described in honeybees in Hawaii, but we were still surprised to see this borne out in the data,” he said. “It’s not so often that you see what you’ve predicted in biology.”

Wilson Rankin and Loope were joined in the research by Philip J. Lester of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; and James W. Baty of Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, New Zealand. Genetic analyses on the bee and wasp samples were performed at UCR and in New Zealand.

Wilson Rankin was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Hellman Fellows Fund. Loope was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2019/01/08/bee-mite-arrival-hawaii-causes-pathogen-changes-honeybee-predators

New Laboratory System Allows Researchers To Probe The Secret Lives Of Queen Bees

Phys.org University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign December 3, 2018

Researchers at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois used specially developed 3D-printed plastic honey combs that mimic the hive environment, in order to monitor queen egg-laying behaviors. Credit: Bee Research Facility, University of Illinois

Researchers at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois used specially developed 3D-printed plastic honey combs that mimic the hive environment, in order to monitor queen egg-laying behaviors. Credit: Bee Research Facility, University of Illinois

More than a decade after the identification of colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon marked by widespread loss of honey bee colonies, scientists are still working to untangle the ecologically complex problem of how to mitigate ongoing losses of honey bees and other pollinating species. One much-needed aid in this effort is more efficient ways to track specific impacts on bee health. To address this need, a group of Illinois researchers has established a laboratory-based method for tracking the fertility of honey bee queens.

Co-first authors Julia Fine and Hagai Shpigler, both postdoctoral researchers at the University of Illinois, worked with others in the laboratory of Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology Director and Swanlund Professor of Entomology Gene Robinson to establish a laboratory set-up that would mimic the key aspects of the hive environment and allow detection of egg-laying by honey bee queens living with small groups of worker bees. The resulting system, described in PLOS ONE, allowed them to explore the relationship between worker nutrition and queen fertility.

"The idea that honey bee nutrition influences colony level metrics of reproduction has been demonstrated before, but here, we examined an old story using new tools," Fine said. "We were able to get a clearer picture of how nutrition can affect the relationship between honey bee workers and queens and how this can impact the queen's egg production."

Populations of many pollinator species have been declining in the US and worldwide. Studies of factors influencing wild and managed honey bee hives have identified four main factors influencing health: parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and poor nutrition. These factors can influence one another. For example, parasites may spread pathogens, much as fleas do on people, while poor nutrition might increase the likelihood of foraging on contaminated food sources.

Egg production is a vital aspect of honey bee colony function. Queens lay eggs that hatch into the thousands of worker bees that keep the colony running, as well as males and young queens to allow the colony to propagate. But in the dark, bustling interior of a standard hive, it is challenging to monitor egg laying or to evaluate the impacts of environmental factors.

"Egg laying occurs in the darkness of a hive occupied by thousands of workers and is therefore hard to track," Shpigler said. "Queen egg laying was never studied outside of the colony; the biggest challenge was to give the queens the right conditions for continuous egg laying outside of natural conditions."

To move queen productivity successfully into the lab, the researchers focused on the essentials of their natural environment. They developed a 3-D-printed plastic honey comb that they refined to mimic what a queen would experience in the hive, which ensured that the cage environment could be carefully controlled and kept pesticide free. They also provided each queen with a small group of worker bees to feed and support the queen; this element became the inspiration for their first experiments with the new system.

"Honey bee queens only ingest food in the form of glandular secretions provided to them by their worker caretakers, and queens are not known to lay eggs without the support of their worker bees," Fine said. "The more we worked in this system, the more it became apparent that the easiest way to influence the queen was to first influence the worker bees that care for her. Once we identified this strategy, designing effective experiments became easier."

Fine, Shpigler, and their coauthors provided each group of caged bees with honey, water, and sucrose solution, but varied the source of fat and protein: some bees were fed with a paste of honey and either a low or a high amount of floral pollen, while others were fed with bee bread, a mixture of pollen, honey, and secretions produced by worker honey bees that preserve and ferment the pollen. The researchers monitored how queen egg laying behavior was influenced by the type of diet fed to the workers caring for her.

They found that when a group of workers was fed pollen paste, the queen they attended was likely to increase her egg laying more slowly in the laboratory environment than a queen attended by bee bread-fed workers. This difference was most noticeable when the lower-percentage pollen paste was used, but persisted even in bees fed the richer pollen paste.

The results affirmed the importance of nutrition to queen productivity, as well as demonstrating the potential utility of the laboratory set-up for investigating other factors affecting queen behavior and health.

"The effect of the nutrition . . . was our first successful use of the system, giving us hope for more success in the future," Shpigler said. "The results show very nicely how the honey bee colony functions as one body, with shared digestive and reproductive systems. The workers are the ones that eat the food and the effect is on the queen egg laying—the superorganism in action!"

"It's been exciting to see the kind of quantitative data that we can generate with this system using fewer resources relative to studies that use full size honey bee colonies," Fine said. "Eventually, we hope that this system can be adapted as a risk assessment tool to identify other factors that positively and negatively influence honey bee reproduction . . . there is an immediate need for a laboratory system that can be used to quantitatively assess risks to honey bee queen health and reproduction."

More information: Julia D. Fine et al, Quantifying the effects of pollen nutrition on honey bee queen egg laying with a new laboratory system, PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203444

Journal reference: PLoS ONE

Provided by: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

https://phys.org/news/2018-12-laboratory-probe-secret-queen-bees.html#jCp

Will Mushrooms Be Magic for Threatened Bees?

The New York Times / Opinion By Paul Stamets December 28, 2108

We might be able to save honeybees from viruses transmitted by invasive parasites without chemical treatment.

Credit: Lilli Carré

Credit: Lilli Carré

Sometime in the 1980s, microscopic mites that had been afflicting honeybees outside the United States found their way to Florida and Wisconsin and began wreaking havoc across the country. These parasites have invaded and decimated wild and domestic bee colonies. Along with other dangers facing bees, like pesticides and the loss of forage lands, the viruses these mites carry threaten the bees we rely on to pollinate many of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat.

This mite, Varroa destructor, injects a slew of viruses into bees, including one that causes shriveled wings, a primary factor in widespread colony collapse. Worse, these parasites have rapidly developed resistance to synthetic pesticides.

Beekeepers in the United States lost an estimated 40 percent of their colonies between April 2017 and April 2018. But we might be able to save honeybees at least from this parasitic scourge without chemical intervention. I along with scientists at Washington State University and the United States Department of Agriculture recently published in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature, a study that could inspire a paradigm shift in protecting bees.

Our research shows that extracts from the living mycelial tissue of common wood conk mushrooms known to have antiviral properties significantly reduced these viruses in honeybee colonies, in one field test by 45,000 times, compared to control colonies. In the field tests, we used extracts from two species of wood conks, the red reishi and the amadou. The famous “Iceman” found in a glacier in 1991 in the Alps carried amadouin a pouch 5,300 years ago. The red reishi has long been used as an immune-boosting tonic in Asia.

Our hypothesis — and that's all it is, we don't understand the mechanism behind the results — is that extracts of wood conk mushrooms strengthen immunity to viruses. More study is needed. At present, there have been no substances proved to reduce viruses in bees.

In the field study, a small amount of one of these mycelial extracts was added to the sugar water commonly fed to honeybees by beekeepers; wild bees could benefit too. I’m excited by the prospect of this research. I am a mycologist by trade — a mushroom expert — and I hope to create, with some colleagues, a nonprofit organization that could make available this mushroom extract and a bee feeder, similar to a hummingbird feeder, so that all of us can help save bees from our own backyards.

Our team is designing a bee feeder that we hope makes it possible to track bee visits and their pollen loads. Ideally, citizen scientists will upload their data to a portal to monitor progress. I estimate that millions of these feeders are needed to reverse the decline in bee populations.

Nature can repair itself with a little help from mycologists. Fungi outnumber plants by about 6 to 1; there are two million to four million fungal species, though only about 140,000 have been named so far. Our research underlines the need to save biodiversity for the discoveries to come.

These mycelial extracts might aid other species like pigs, birds and other animals. But we need more animal clinical studies to prove that this will work on a wider scale.

Mycology is an underfunded, understudied field with astonishing potential to save lives: ours and the bees.

Paul Stamets, a mycologist and owner of a gourmet mushroom company, is the author of “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/28/opinion/bees-threats-crop-loss-mushrooms.html

We Discovered More About The Honeybee 'Wake-Up Call'—And It Could Help Save Them

Phys.org By Martin Bencsik and Michael Ramsey,  The Conversation December 21, 2018

Remotely monitoring honeybee hives can help track the health of the colony. Credit: weter78/ Shutterstock

Remotely monitoring honeybee hives can help track the health of the colony. Credit: weter78/ Shutterstock

Worldwide honeybee populations are in peril – and it's a dire situation for humans. Threats from climate change, toxic pesticides, and disease have all contributed to a steep honeybee population decline since 2006. And as a third of the food we eat is a direct result of insect pollination – including by honeybees – there could be serious consequences for us if the species goes extinct.

We recently uncovered more about a well-known, important honeybee signal known as the dorso-ventral abdominal vibration (DVAV) signal. Known as the honeybee "wake-up call," this signal tells other bees to prepare for an increase in work load, particularly in relation to foraging. We developed a remote sensor which allowed us to monitor honeybee colonies without opening the hive. By understanding the frequency and strength of the DVAV signal in the hive, beekeepers and researchers might be better able to monitor the health of bee colonies worldwide.

In many countries (and in Europe in particular), the woodland habitat that honeybees require no longer exists, so the majority of honeybees only survive thanks to beekeepers, who provide boxes and hives for them to live in. As such, being able to continuously monitor honeybee colonies is essential to their survival.

Problems can arise quickly in a colony, with devastating effects. While commercial beekeepers are doing their best to monitor bee populations in hives, checking on every single hive's population is a near impossible task, as some professionals have more than 1,000 colonies to care for.

Recent research has focused on finding ways to monitor honeybee populations without having to physically open hives. This will help beekeepers better check the safety of their colonies and may help sustain honeybee populations.

A BEE DELIVERING A SERIES OF DVAV SIGNALS.

We have been particularly interested in researching the vibrations resulting from honeybee activity within hives to better understand their in-hive behaviour. By detecting and measuring the vibrations sent through the honeycomb by individual bees, we are able to study and decode the messages honeybees are sending each other.

Bee communication

The DVAV signal is one well-known form of honeybee communication which tells other bees in the hive to prepare for increased work load. This signal lasts one second and occurs when a honeybee grips a recipient bee with her front legs and rhythmically shakes her abdomen back and forth, usually 20 times per second.

Using an accelerometer sensor (which measures the rate of acceleration the bee's body vibrates) with automated recording software, we were able to continuously monitor activity in the honeybee hive. Our research found that we can pick up the DVAV signal in the hive when honeybees pass near our sensor. Knowing this allows us to refine our assessment of the health of the colony, as specific health disorders will be reflected in changes in the hive's overall DVAV activity levels.

This "wake-up call" was not previously known to produce any vibration within the honeycomb, but we now have recorded the associated waveform in outstanding detail. Additional video analysis allowed us to confirm that it was the DVAV signal our sensor was detecting. From this, we were then able to create further machine-learning software to automatically detect and log any occurrence of DVAVs from the data our sensor picked up.

A DVAV SIGNAL IS DETECTED.

We monitored this signal in three hives in the UK and France for up to 16 months. We found that the signal is very common and highly repeatable. It unexpectedly occurs more frequently at night, with a distinct decrease towards mid-afternoon – a trend that is opposite to the amplitude (strength, or loudness) of the signals. We also found that honeybees will commonly produce this signal directly onto the comb.

This, alongside other research, suggests the DVAV signal may not function only as a wake-up call. For instance, this signal might be a way for bees to probe the contents of the honeycomb in order to check the honey and pollen storage levels, or for the presence of eggs. The amplitude of the signal, which varies a lot between night and day, might indicate the context in which the message is being produced. Its nighttime enhanced frequency is both a new discovery and, presently, an amazing mystery.

This new insight into the DVAV signal will help scientists recreate it so that we can try to communicate with the bees. By driving a precise replica of DVAV signal waves into the honeycomb (something not possible before our study), researchers will be able to transmit meaningful messages to the colony. This will let them check that enhanced colony activity is achieved, and will also allow them to further understand the DVAV signal's specific functions.

Our new research builds upon the work done by Karl von Frisch who decoded the meaning of the honeybee "waggle dance". Von Frisch discovered honeybees use it to alert each other of nectar in the area, and it gives highly precise instructions on where to find it. The waggle dance is still discussed today as an example of astonishing sophistication in insect communication. The discovery also prompted a shift in our thinking about other life forms, and how they impact our lives.

With the current evidence we have about humanity's detrimental effect on Earth, it is likely that society's impact on the planet will only get worse. Despite our desire to protect endangered species, we frequently make decisions for humanity's benefit which are damaging to the environment. By highlighting another fascinating element of honeybee communication, we hope that our work will help shift humanity's thinking and make sustainability of the planet the top priority.

Explore further: Surprised honeybees give 'whooping signal' in the hive, study shows

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-12-honeybee-wake-up-calland.html#jCp

Provided by: The Conversation 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Genome Published of The Small Hive Beetle, A Major Honey Bee Parasite

Phys.org From the Department of Agriculture December 20, 2018

Small hive beetles in a honey bee colony. Credit: Agricultural Research Service-USDA

Small hive beetles in a honey bee colony. Credit: Agricultural Research Service-USDA

Beekeepers and researchers will welcome the unveiling of the small hive beetle's genome by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their colleagues. The small hive beetle (SHB) is a major parasite problem of honey bees for which there are few effective treatments.

The SHB (Aethina tumida Murray) genome—a genome is the sum total of all an organism's DNA; a gene codes for a single protein to be built—is available at is available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genome/annotation_euk/Aethina_tumida/100 and was recently published in GigaScience.

This information will provide crucial keys that should lead to better, more targeted SHB control methods, including insecticidal treatments and possibly even genetic/breeding solutions.

The SHB has a strong gene-guided system that lets the beetle detoxify many insecticides. Having the genome will allow researchers to gain a more precise understanding of these detoxification genes, so more effective choices for control treatments can be made.

"The big challenge is identifying control methods that will target SHBs but not harm honey bees," said geneticist Jay Evans, who ran the project and is also leader of the ARS Bee Research Laboratory. "One strategy is to look for insecticides that hit pathways in the genome where the SHB has few or no detoxification genes. It would be even better if an insecticide could be identified for which the honey bee has detoxification genes but that the SHB doesn't.

A native of sub-Saharan Africa, the SHB has spread to many other locations, including North America, Europe, Australia, and the Philippines. It was first found in the United States in 1996 and during the summer of 1998, the SHB was blamed for losses of more than 20,000 honey bee colonies in Florida alone.

Today, the SHB has spread throughout the United States. It is a major problem especially for queen breeders and honey production. SHBs eat everything and anything in a bee colony: pollen, brood, honey, dead adult bees and combs) and cause honey to ferment in the process. If the number of SHBs is high enough, adult bees will abscond from the hive.

One avenue to which the SHB genome has already pointed is where to look for clues for how the SHB finds beehives; what pheromones or other smells do SHBs follow to target honey bee colonies.

Although there are about 350,000 beetle species and subspecies, only seven beetle genomes, including the SHB, have been completed and published.

Completing the SHB genome takes on even more importance when you realize that among the SHB's close relatives are the destructive and invasive Asian longhorned beetle along with other sap beetles that are pests of sweet corn, tomatoes, strawberries and other fruit and vegetable crops.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.

Explore further: Study examines insecticide's effects on honey bees

Journal reference: GigaScience

Provided by: US Department of Agriculture

Read more at:https://phys.org/news/2018-12-genome-published-small-hive-beetle.html#jCp

The First-Ever Insect Vaccine Prime-BEE Helps Bees Stay Healthy

University of Helsinki By Elina Raukko October 31, 2018

Photo: Helsinki Innovation Services

Photo: Helsinki Innovation Services

The easily administered edible vaccine could keep pollinators safe from bacterial diseases and give invaluable support for food production worldwide.

Food and pollination services are important for everyone: humans, production animals and wildlife alike. Inventing something that guards against pollinator losses will have a tremendous impact.

PrimeBEE is the first-ever vaccine for honey bees and other pollinators. It fights severe microbial diseases that can be detrimental to pollinator communities. The invention is the fruit of research carried out by two scientists in the University of Helsinki, Dalial Freitak and Heli Salmela.

The basis of the innovation is quite simple. When the queen bee eats something with pathogens in it, the pathogen signature molecules are bound by vitellogenin. Vitellogenin then carries these signature molecules into the queen’s eggs, where they work as inducers for future immune responses.

Before this, no-one had thought that insect vaccination could be possible at all. That is because the insect immune system, although rather similar to the mammalian system, lacks one of the central mechanisms for immunological memory – antibodies.
"Now we've discovered the mechanism to show that you can actually vaccinate them. You can transfer a signal from one generation to another," researcher Dalial Freitak states.

From moths to honey bees

Dalial Freitak has been working with insects and the immune system throughout her career. Starting with moths, she noticed that if the parental generation is exposed to certain bacteria via their food, their offspring show elevated immune responses.

"So they could actually convey something by eating. I just didn't know what the mechanism was. At the time, as I started my post-doc work in Helsinki, I met with Heli Salmela, who was working on honeybees and a protein called vitellogenin. I heard her talk and I was like: OK, I could make a bet that it is your protein that takes my signal from one generation to another. We started to collaborate, got funding from the Academy of Finland, and that was actually the beginning of PrimeBEE," Dalial Freitak explains.

Fu­ture plans: vac­cin­at­ing honey bees against any mi­crobe

PrimeBEE's first aim is to develop a vaccine against American foulbrood, a bacterial disease caused by the spore-forming Paenibacillus larvae ssp. larvae. American foulbrood is the most widespread and destructive of the bee brood diseases.

"We hope that we can also develop a vaccination against other infections, such as European foulbrood and fungal diseases. We have already started initial tests. The plan is to be able to vaccinate against any microbe".

At the same time as the vaccine’s safety is being tested in the laboratory, the project is being accelerated towards launching a business. Sara Kangaspeska, Head of Innovation at Helsinki Innovation Services HIS, has been involved with the project right from the start.

"Commercialisation has been a target for the project from the beginning. It all started when Dalial and Heli contacted us. They first filed an invention disclosure to us describing the key findings of the research. They then met with us to discuss the case in detail and since then, the University has proceeded towards filing a patent application that reached the national phase in January 2018.”

A big step forward was to apply for dedicated commercialisation funding from Business Finland, a process which is coordinated and supported by HIS. HIS assigns a case owner for each innovation or commercialisation project, who guides the project from A to Z and works hands-on with the researcher team.

“HIS core activities are to identify and support commercialisation opportunities stemming from the University of Helsinki research. PrimeBEE is a great example of an innovation maturing towards a true commercial seed ready to be spun-out from the University soon. It has been inspiring and rewarding to work together with the researchers towards a common goal,” says Sara Kangaspeska.

The latest news is that based on the PrimeBEE invention, a spinout company called Dalan Animal Health will be founded in the very near future.

"We need to help honey bees, absolutely. Even improving their life a little would have a big effect on the global scale. Of course, the honeybees have many other problems as well: pesticides, habitat loss and so on, but diseases come hand in hand with these life-quality problems. If we can help honey bees to be healthier and if we can save even a small part of the bee population with this invention, I think we have done our good deed and saved the world a little bit," Dalial Freitak asserts.

Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme
Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions

In short:

Honeybees are central for providing food for humans, production animals and wildlife by pollinating more than 80% of the plant species in the world. Recent years have witnessed a decline in pollinator numbers worldwide, threatening the food and fodder production. Among other reasons, emerging diseases are raging havoc in bee populations.

PrimeBEE is the first-ever insect vaccine, which is based on the trans-generational immune priming mechanism, allowing immunological signals to be passed from queen bees to her offspring. PrimeBEE insect vaccine is easily administered as it can be added to the queen bee's food. The queen then conveys the disease resistance to its progeny.

JOIN US: We are now looking for investors and funding to help save a little bit of the world! CON­TACT IN­FOR­MA­TION: Dr. Dalial Freitak, Dr. Annette Kleiser, and Dr. Franziska Dickel

PrimeBee website

https://www.helsinki.fi/en/news/sustainability-news/the-first-ever-insect-vaccine-primebee-helps-bees-stay-healthy

Researchers Discover Honeybee Gynandromorph With Two Fathers And No Mother

Phys.org By Bob Yirka November 28, 2018

Credit CCO Public Domain

Credit CCO Public Domain

A team of researchers at the University of Sydney has discovered a honeybee gynandromorph with two fathers and no mother—the first ever of its kind observed in nature. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the group describes their study of honeybee gynandromorphs and what they found.

Honeybees are haplodiploid creatures—which means that females develop from fertilized eggs, while males arise from eggs that are not fertilized. Because of this, honeybees are susceptible to producing gynandromorphs, creatures with both male and female tissue. This is different from hermaphrodites, which are one gender but have sex organs of both male and female. In this new effort, the researchers sought to learn more about the nature of gynandromorphs and what causes them.

Prior research has suggested the likelihood that rare mutations result in the creation of gynandromorphs. The mechanics of the process are due to multiple males mating with a queen, resulting in more than a single sperm fertilizing an egg. To learn more about the genetics involved, the researchers captured 11 gynandromorph honeybees, all from a single colony, and studied their genome.

The genetic makeup of the gynandromorphs revealed that five of them had normal ovaries, while three had ovaries that were similar to those of the queen. Also, one of them had normal male sex organs while two had only partial sex organs. The researchers also found that out of the 11 gynandromorphs tested, nine had either two or three fathers. And remarkably, one had two fathers but no mother—a development that could only have occurred through the development of sperm fusion.

The researchers note that gynandromorphs confer no known evolutionary advantage for a species; thus, their development must be due to mistakes resulting in still unknown mutations. They suggest that the large number of gynandromorphs in a single hive likely means the queen carries the mutation. They note that gynandromorphs have been observed in other species as well, including some crustaceans, other insects and a few bird species. The mutation that causes it in those other species has not been found, either.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-11-honeybee-gynandromorph-fathers-mother.html#jCp

Stronger Pesticide Regulations Likely Needed To Protect All Bee Species, Say Studies

Wild bee Credit: Nigel Raine

Wild bee Credit: Nigel Raine

December 11, 2018, University of Guelph

Pesticide regulations designed to protect honeybees fail to account for potential health threats posed by agrochemicals to the full diversity of bee species that are even more important pollinators of food crops and other plants, say three new international papers co-authored by University of Guelph biologists.

As the global human population grows, and as pollinators continue to suffer declines caused by everything from habitat loss to pathogens, regulators need to widen pesticide risk assessments to protect not just honeybees but other species from bumblebees to solitary bees, said environmental sciences professor Nigel Raine, holder of the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation.

"There is evidence that our dependency on insect-pollinated crops is increasing and will continue to do so as the global population rises," said Raine, co-author of all three papers recently published in the journal Environmental Entomology.

With growing demands for crop pollination outstripping increases in honeybee stocks, he said, "Protecting wild pollinators is more important now than ever before. Honeybees alone simply cannot deliver the crop pollination services we need."

Government regulators worldwide currently use honeybees as the sole model species for assessing potential risks of pesticide exposure to insect pollinators.

But Raine said wild bees are probably more important for pollination of food crops than managed honeybees. Many of those wild species live in soil, but scientists lack information about exposure of adult or larval bees to pesticides through food or soil residues.

The papers call on regulators to look for additional models among solitary bees and bumblebees to better gauge health risks and improve protection for these species.

"Everybody is focused on honeybees," said Angela Gradish, a research associate in the School of Environmental Sciences and lead author of one paper, whose co-authors include Raine and SES Prof. Cynthia Scott-Dupree. "What about these other bees? There are a lot of unknowns about how bumblebees are exposed to pesticides in agricultural environments."

She said bumblebee queens have different life cycles than honeybee counterparts that may increase their contact with pesticides or residues while collecting food and establishing colonies.

"That's a critical difference because the loss of a single bumblebee queen translates into the loss of the colony that she would have produced. It's one queen, but it's a whole colony at risk."

Like honeybees, bumblebees forage on a wide variety of flowering plants. But because bumblebees are larger, they can carry more pollen from plant to plant. They also forage under lower light conditions and in cloudier, cooler weather that deter honeybees.

Those characteristics make bumblebees especially vital for southern Ontario's greenhouse growers.

"Greenhouse tomato producers rely on commercial bumblebee colonies as the only source of pollination for their crops," said Gradish.

The new studies stem from workshops held in early 2017 involving 40 bee researchers from universities and representatives of agrochemical industries and regulatory agencies in Canada, the United States and Europe, including Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

"I hope we can address shortfalls in the pesticide regulatory process," said Raine, who attended the international meeting held in Washington, D.C.

"Given the great variability that we see in the behaviour, ecology and life history of over 20,000 species of bees in the world, there are some routes of pesticide exposure that are not adequately considered in risk assessments focusing only on honeybees."

Read at: https://phys.org/news/2018-12-stronger-pesticide-bee-species.html#jCp

Explore further: Bee flower choices altered by exposure to pesticides

More information: Environmental Entomology (2018). DOI: 10.1093/ee/nvy103 , https://academic.oup.com/ee/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ee/nvy103/5216322 

Provided by: University of Guelph

Scientists Create Edible Honey Bee Vaccine To Protect Them From Deadly Diseases

Honey bees pollinate a variety of crops, such as apples and melons.

Honey bees pollinate a variety of crops, such as apples and melons.

FOX News By Madeline Farber December 6, 2018

The first-ever vaccine for insects now exists, thanks to scientists at the University of Helsinki in Finland hoping to save one of the most crucial pollinators in the world: the honey bee.

The vaccine, which is edible, “protects bees from diseases while protecting global food production,” the university said in a news release. The goal, researchers said, is to protect the bees against American foulbrood, “a bacterial disease caused by the spore-forming Paenibacillus larvae ssp. Larvae.”

The disease is the “most widespread and destructive of the bee brood diseases,” the university added.

Bloomberg reported the disease can kill “entire colonies” while its “spores can remain viable for more than 50 years.”

To distribute the vaccine, scientists place a sugar patty in the hive, which the queen then eats over the course of about a week. Once ingested, the pathogens in the patty are then passed into the queen’s eggs, “where they work as inducers for future immune responses,” the university explained in the statement.

The vaccine — which is not yet sold commercially, according to Bloomberg — is also significant because it was once not thought possible to develop a vaccine for insects, as these creatures’ immune systems do not contain antibodies.

"Now we've discovered the mechanism to show that you can actually vaccinate them. You can transfer a signal from one generation to another," Dalial Freitak, a University of Helsinki scientist who worked to create the vaccine, said in a statement.

Honey bees are important to the U.S. crop production, contributing an estimated $20 billion to its value, according to the American Beekeeping Foundation. The species pollinate a variety of crops, including apples, melons, blueberries and cherries — the latter two are “90 percent dependent on honey bee pollination,” according to the foundation.

“One crop, almonds, depends entirely on the honey bee for pollination at bloom time,” the American Beekeeping Foundation added.

The honey bee population in North America has been affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) disease, mites and possibly the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, according to the Harvard University Library.

On average, beekeepers in the U.S. lost an estimated 40 percent of their managed honey bee colonies from April 2017 to April 2018, according to Bee Informed, a nationwide collaboration of research efforts to better understand the decline of honeybees.

"We need to help honey bees, absolutely. Even improving their life a little would have a big effect on the global scale. Of course, the honeybees have many other problems as well: pesticides, habitat loss and so on, but diseases come hand in hand with these life-quality problems,” Freitak said.

“If we can help honey bees to be healthier and if we can save even a small part of the bee population with this invention, I think we have done our good deed and saved the world a little bit," Freitak added.

Fox News' Emilie Ikeda contributed to this report.

Related: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-06/world-s-first-honey-bee-vaccine-seeks-to-save-dying-pollinators

Epigenetic Patterns Determine If Honeybee Larvae Become Queens Or Workers

Science Daily / Queen Mary University of London    August 22, 2018

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London and Australian National University have unravelled how changes in nutrition in the early development of honeybees can result in vastly different adult characteristics.

Queen and worker honeybees are almost genetically identical but are fed a different diet as larvae. The researchers have found that specific protein patterns on their genome play an important role in determining which one they develop into.

These proteins, known as histones, act as switches that control how the larvae develop and the diet determines which switches are activated. They found that the queen develops faster and the worker developmental pathway is actively switched on from a default queen developmental programme.

This change is caused by epigenetics -- a dynamic set of instructions that exist 'on top' of the genetic information, that encode and direct the programme of events that leads to differential gene expression and worker or queen developmental outcome.

The study, published in Genome Research, describes the first genome wide map of histone patterns in the honeybee and the first between any organism of the same sex that differs in reproductive division of labour.

Bees are also very important pollinators -- so it is crucial to understand their molecular biology, how they develop and the mechanisms that regulate this.

Lead author Dr Paul Hurd, from Queen Mary University of London, said: "The ability of an individual larva to become a worker or a queen is due to the way genes are switched on or off in response to the specific diet; this determines such differing outcomes from the same genome."

"We show that queens and workers have specific histone patterns even though their DNAs are the same. These proteins control both structural and functional aspects of the organism's genetic material and have the capacity to determine which part of the genome, and when, has to be activated to respond to both internal and external stimuli."

The histones have small chemical tags, or epigenetic modifications, that allow them to act differently to those that do not, usually by allowing access to the DNA and genes. This enables identical DNA to behave in different ways because it is wrapped around histones with different chemical (epigenetic) tags.

Co-author Professor Ryszard Maleszka, from Australian National University, added: "The extent of histone modifications uncovered by this study was remarkable and exceeded our expectations. We were able to identify where the important differences are in the genomes of workers and queen."

Epigenetic information can be altered by environmental factors, including diet. In the case of the honeybee, the queen larvae are fed a diet of royal jelly, a potent substance capable of changing developmental instructions.

Dr Hurd said: "Think of the genome as the instruction book of everything that is possible but the epigenetics is the way in which those instructions are read. Epigenetics is about interpretation and of course there are many different ways to interpret these instructions and when and in response to what."

The authors found that some of the most important epigenetic differences are in regions of the honeybee genome that are not part of genes. For the first time, these caste-specific regulatory DNA regions that are so important in making a queen or a worker have been identified.

Professor Maleszka said: "Our findings are important because a high level of similarity of epigenetic tool kits between honeybees and mammals makes this familiar insect an invaluable system to investigate the sophistications of epigenetic regulation that cannot be addressed in humans or other mammals."


Story Source:

Materials provided by Queen Mary University of London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

Marek Wojciechowski, Robert Lowe, Joanna Maleszka, Danyal Conn, Ryszard Maleszka, Paul J. Hurd. Phenotypically distinct female castes in honey bees are defined by alternative chromatin states during larval development. Genome Research, 2018; DOI: 10.1101/gr.236497.118

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180822130958.htm

Drift

      By Dan Wyns     June 12, 2018

     Drift




Bees have incredible navigation abilities that allow them to fly miles away from the colony to forage and return home with enough precision to locate the entrance to their colony, even when there are dozens of nearly identical hives within a small apiary site. The current understanding of navigation is that a combination of position relative to the sun and landmarks across the landscape get them close and then a combination of visual cues and pheromones to precisely locate the colony entrance. When a returning forager ends up returning to the wrong colony, she is typically not attacked as a robbing bee but accepted into the colony due to the pollen or nectar she carries. This process, known as drift, can lead to significant variations in colony strength over time and increase the potential for the spread of diseases and parasites within an apiary. Drift is generally not viewed as a huge problem, but there are some steps beekeepers can take to mitigate the amount of drift happening in their apiaries.

When colonies are aggregated in large numbers and placed in rows of pallets, as is common in a commercial setting, there is potential for excessive drift. Many beekeepers elect to paint all of their woodware white, and this decision may be based on tradition, aesthetic, or other considerations. Others use a variety of colors, which creates a more vibrant apiary and may also help returning forages with orientation. While bees do not see the same spectrum of colors as humans, they are able to distinguish between different shades, assisting them in orientation. In general dark colors should be avoided, particularly in excessively warm and sunny locations, so colonies will not become excessively hot. However, a mix of pastel colors and tones can provide some variation to help bees distinguish individual colonies without adding the potential for thermal stress.

In addition to variations in color, placement relative to other colonies and objects in the landscape can offer navigational aids that limit drift. Many beekeepers have observed that when a number of colonies are placed in a long line the colonies at the downwind end of the line accumulate more bees and yield greater honey harvests while those at the upwind end of the line are often short on bees and lighter in honey stores. By placing an array of hives in circles or arcs, with entrances pointed in different directions, the downwind drift effect can be lessened.  Prominent landscape features can also be helpful in providing orientation assistance. In addition to potentially providing a windbreak, a structure, tree line, or hedgerow close to hives can reduce drift. Orientation landmarks can be particularly important when setting up yards for mating nucs. It is essential that queens return to the correct nuc after orientation and mating flights so extra consideration should be given to visual cues in order to minimize drift in mating yards.

Drift is not something that most beekeepers give a lot of thought and it is certainly not among the most critical factors impacting colony health. Nevertheless, there is a growing understanding of the impacts of horizontal transmission of varroa mites between colonies and the ability to control varroa levels within and between apiaries. Phoretic varroa on drifting foragers are one way that ‘clean’ colonies may become reinfested. Given the ever-increasing number of challenges to bee management, reducing drift represents one area where beekeepers can potentially reduce colony stress for a minimal amount of effort.

https://beeinformed.org/2018/06/11/drift/

 

 

Do Bees Know Nothing?

The New York Times     By James Gorman     June 7, 2018

Researchers say bees understand the concept of nothing, or zero. But do we understand what that means?

Not only can a honey bee count, it understands the concept of zero, according to researchers. CreditFrank Bienewald/LightRocket, via Getty ImagesWhat would it mean if bees could understand the concept of nothing?

That would be really something.

Yet that is what scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science. Bees had already demonstrated they could count. Now, the researchers wrote, bees have shown that they understand the absence of things — shapes on a display in this experiment — as a numerical quantity: none or zero.

This is a big leap. Some past civilizations had trouble with the idea of zero. And the only nonhuman animals so far to pass the kind of test bees did are primates and one bird. Not one species, one bird, the famed African gray parrot, Alex, who knew not only words, but numbers.

Bees? Really? It’s not the results of the study I wonder about. There seems to be no question that bees do quite well at the standard understanding-zero experiment, clearly putting them in a cognitive elite.

And in one sense that’s no surprise, researchers continue to find that insect brains are far more complex and capable of learning, calculating and deciding than we had ever imagined, and bees seem particularly smart.

It’s not the science, but the language that gave me pause. How do we understand the word “understand”? What is our concept of what “concept” means?

When I first read that bees could understand the concept of nothing, I thought, well, they’re one up on cosmologists, many of whom say the universe came from nothing although they can’t agree with philosophers on what “nothing” is.

Obviously, this was not the problem the bees were asked to solve, yet.

Here’s what they did. Scarlett Howard and Adrian Dyer of RMIT University in Melbourne and their colleagues trained bees to land on visual displays for a reward.

Some were rewarded if they landed on the displays with more shapes, like squares or circles, and some if they landed on the displays with fewer. The shapes were of different sizes and the displays with varying numbers of shapes were hung on a wheel in different places to avoid giving any spatial clues.

Then, the researchers introduced a display with no shapes. Bees trained to land on a display with fewer shapes landed on the so-called “empty set,” the nothing display, the zero card.

Bees trained to land on the display with more shapes did not.

Bees were rewarded when they landed on cards with more shapes. CreditScarlett R. Howard et al.

Bees were rewarded when they landed on cards with more shapes.CreditScarlett R. Howard et al.

Furthermore, bees did better when the empty display was in a group with displays with larger numbers of shapes than with fewer. And that suggested the bees get the idea of more and fewer, of a numerical series in which one is closer to zero than five.

There, I did it myself. I wrote “they get the idea.” Does that mean bees have “ideas”? I have no idea. I do know that scare quotes are the unavoidable curse of comparative cognition.

Altogether, the results of the bee experiments show, Dr. Dyer said, that bees “understood that zero was a number lower than one and part of a sequence of numbers.”

But they weren’t thinking the way we think, consciously, right? “I certainly wouldn’t use the word consciousness,” in relation to bees, Dr. Dyer said. But, “the evidence is consistent with high-level cognitive abilities.”

I asked two other researchers what they thought about what was going on in the bee brains.

Lars Chittka, at Queen Mary University of London, who has explored the capacity of bees to learn and manipulate tools, said the bees showed comparable ability to primates on the tasks the researchers set them.

You’re a Bee. This Is What It Feels Like.

I told him that the word “understand” gave me the willies, and he said, “It is funny that we would hesitate to use the word understand. A primate researcher wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to use the word.”

But, he noted, humans are separated from chimpanzees by perhaps six million years of evolution and from insects by 500 million years or more. What the two species are doing could be computationally quite different.

He does suspect, he says, that bees, with their many abilities — he trained them to put a ball in a hole and showed that they can learn from each other to pull a string for a reward — may have “a kind of more flexible intelligence that allows you to solve all sorts of problems.”

I also turned to David Anderson at Stanford, who doesn’t work on bees, and wasn’t involved in this study. He studies fruit flies, but he is a champion of both of sophistication in insect brains, and of caution in judging how far that sophistication goes.

“It is difficult to know what such a task ‘means’ for the bees,” he wrote in an email, “from a ‘conceptual’ standpoint, because we do not understand the strategy that the bees’ brains are using to solve the problem.”

The eventual resolution of some of these questions, will come when researchers can see what is actually going in the brain, Dr. Anderson suggested.

Ms. Howard also pointed to deciphering brain processes as a future goal. “So far,” she said, “we don’t know how any animal represents ‘nothing’ in the brain.”

Can You Pick the Bees Out of This Insect Lineup?

James Gorman is a science writer at large and the host and writer of the video feature “ScienceTake”. He joined The Times in 1993 and is the author of several books, including “How to Build a Dinosaur,” written with the paleontologist Jack Horner. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/science/bees-intelligence-zero.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FBees&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

Bees Join An Exclusive Crew Of Animals That Get The Concept Of Zero

Science News    By Susan Milius     June 7, 2018

Honeybees can pass a test of ranking ‘nothing’ as less than one

BEE CHOSES NOTHING Bees show some sense of the idea of zero, researchers say. Tests required the insects to choose between images with various numbers of dark shapes.A little brain can be surprisingly good at nothing. Honeybees are the first invertebrates to pass a test of recognizing where zero goes in numerical order, a new study finds.

Even small children struggle with recognizing “nothing” as being less than one, says cognitive behavioral scientist Scarlett Howard of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. But honeybees trained to fly to images of greater or fewer dots or whazzits tended to rank a blank image as less than one, Howard and colleagues report in the June 8 Science.

Despite decades of discoveries, nonhuman animals still don’t get due credit outside specialist circles for intelligence, laments Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London, who has explored various mental capacities of bees. For the world at large, he emphasizes that the abilities described in the new paper are “remarkable.”

Researchers recognize several levels of complexity in grasping zero. Most animals, or maybe all, can understand the simplest level — just recognizing that the absence of something differs from its presence, Howard says. Grasping the notion that absence could fit into a sequence of quantities, though, seems harder. Previously, only some primates such as chimps and vervet monkeys, plus an African gray parrot named Alex, have demonstrated this level of understanding of the concept of zero (SN: 12/10/16, p. 22).

The researchers first trained bees to visit a spot with either a Y-shaped maze or an upright display, both offering images with different numbers of elements, such as dark circles of different sizes. Some bees were trained to fly to the image with the lower numbers of objects, while other bees were taught to go to the higher-number image. The researchers offered the bees a sweet treat for the correct image, and a bitter quinine solution for a wrong answer.

“I was fairly afraid of bees when I began working with them,” Howard says. But learning their ways convinced her that a lot of what humans mistake for aggression from a foraging bee buzzing around is usually “just curiosity.”

The trained bees then performed a series of tests with no rewards. In one test that offered the bees a choice between a single shape image versus a blank image, bees trained to pick the lower number of objects flew to the blank image — the zero — 63 percent of time. Overall, the test results showed the bees treating zero as being less than one, Howard says.

The results convince evolutionary behavioral biologist Rafael Rodríguez of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee that honeybees are indeed getting the basics of zero. Now he’s wondering about earlier studies that might hint that certain spiders would be worth testing, too.

Still, the most sophisticated sense of zero, using a symbol for it in mathematical calculation, is a feat only humans have demonstrated. So far. Howard muses about the possibility of someday testing bees’ prowess on that harder feat.

Citations

S.R. Howard et al. Numerical ordering of zero in honey bees. Science. Vol. 360, June 8, 2018, p. 1124. doi:10.1126/science.aar4975.

I.M. Pepperburg and J.D. Gordon. Number comprehension by a grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), including a zero-like concept. Journal of Comparative Psychology. Vol. 119, May 2005, 197.

Further Reading

P. Skorupski et al. Counting insects. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Vol. 373, February 19, 2018. doi:10.1098/rstb.2016.0513.

S. Milius. Animals give clues to the origins of human number crunching. Science News. Vol. 190, December 10, 2016, p. 22.

D. Ansari and I.M. Lyons. Cognitive neuroscience and mathematics learning: how far have we come? Where do we need to go? ZDM. Vol. 48, June 2016, p. 379. doi: 10.1007/s11858-016-0782-z.

M. Dacke and M.V. Srinivasan. Evidence for in counting in insects. Animal Cognition. Vol. 11, October 2008, p. 683. doi: 10.1007/s10071-008-0159-y.

B. Bower. Tots who tote: Babies show neural signs of budding number sense. Science News. Vol. 173, February 9, 2008, p. 84. 

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/bees-join-exclusive-crew-animals-get-concept-zero

Related: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/science/bees-intelligence-zero.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FBees&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

Bees Adjust To Seasons with Nutrients In Flowers and 'Dirty Water'

PHYS.org     Tufts University     May 30, 2018

Calcium spikes upward in the diet gathered by bees in preparation for winter. Credit: Steffan Hacker, Tufts University

Researchers at Tufts University have discovered that honey bees alter their diet of nutrients according to the season, particularly as winter approaches. A spike in calcium consumption in the fall, and high intake of potassium, help prepare the bees for colder months when they likely need those minerals to generate warmth through rapid muscle contractions. A careful inventory of the bees' nutrient intake revealed shifting sources (from flowers to mineral rich 'dirty water') and how limitations in nutrient availability from these sources can have implications for the health of both managed and wild colonies.

The study, which is available in the May print edition of the Journal of Insect Physiology, examined mineral content gathered by and contained in adult bees and in their sources of food, exploring how they maintain the right nutritional balance of micronutrients. For most of the minerals tracked, it was found that the bees sought alternate sources to complement variation in the floral supply.

"We typically think of honey bees as gathering all the food they need for the colony from flowers, but in fact, our research showed that bees search strategically among different sources, including water, to boost their stores of calcium and maintain potassium levels in preparation for the cold season," said Philip Starks, associate professor of biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts. "Honey bee nutritional requirements are quite complex, and they can face limitations because of levels of micronutrients in their environment."

The study findings build on previous research led by Dr. Rachael Bonoan from the Starks lab that revealed that honey bees use water sources to complement, and sometimes supplement, the minerals in their floral diet. For example, as magnesium levels drop in pollen during the summer and fall, the bees pick up the difference from mineral rich water. Alternatively, calcium levels in gathered pollen increase in the fall, but so do the bees' preference for calcium in water, perhaps reflecting a shift from brood rearing to overwintering, the researchers speculate. Ample calcium and potassium are useful for the muscle activity needed to generate heat in the hive during the winter months.

Calcium spikes upward in the diet gathered by bees in preparation for winter. Credit: Steffan Hacker, Tufts UniversityVIEW VIDEO: https://phys.org/news/2018-05-bees-adjust-seas

"These results have implications in the field," said Rachael Bonoan, lead author of the study and recent Ph.D. graduate from the Starks Lab. "Ultimately, one of the goals of studying mineral needs of honey bees is to create season- or crop-specific supplemental diets for beekeepers. Beyond honey bees, we can support wild pollinators by planting diverse floral, and thus nutrient-rich, sources."

There are many factors that have been blamed for the recent decline of bee populations, including the use of pesticides, the emergence of parasites and pathogens, and climate change. While diversity in the food supply may be one factor, its relative impact on the honey bee crisis has not yet been determined. This particular study, however, expands our understanding of the dynamic nutritional needs of bee colonies and provides further insight as to how we might manage the health of honey bee populations that support the natural environment and our food supply.

Also contributing to the study was Tufts University undergraduate Luke O'Connor, whose work formed the basis of his senior honor's thesis.

https://phys.org/news/2018-05-bees-adjust-seasons-nutrients-dirty.html#jCp

Bees with Backpacks Move to Real World

University of Tasmania / Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture    May 25, 2016

To research honeybees with the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), Ryan Warren studied more than agricultural science – he learned the basics of electrical engineering as well.

Ryan has helped to develop technology that could reveal how weather, chemicals, or disease affect the health of honeybees and their hives, and ultimately, the pollination of our crops.

For his Honours degree, he worked on an antenna system that could be attached to the front of hives to detect bees wearing tiny identification tags, known as RFID (radio frequency identification).

“About one thousand bees were tagged in my project. However, the problem was that bees would come into the hive but the system wouldn’t detect them,” Ryan said.

“So I tested different ways you could set up the antenna to best pick up the bees and detect their movements to and from the hive.”

The antennas are small ceramic squares fitted in six different arrangements around the entrance to the hive.

Ryan’s research was the first time the RFID technology had been used on a full-strength commercial hive containing about 60,000 bees, instead of in the lab or with smaller test boxes.

“I’ve taken an existing system and refined it so that it could actually be used in the field to get some biologically relevant findings. You can generate all the data you want, but they’re just numbers unless you relate it to something meaningful,” he said.

Not only did that mean understanding the physics of radiowaves, but a crash course in computer coding.

“The antenna system generated 1.2 million lines of data over two months, and no-one had ever had a crack at analysing that amount of data,” Ryan said.

His work earned him the 2018 National Student Award from Ag Institute Australia.

One of Ryan’s supervisors was TIA insect expert Dr Stephen Quarrell, whose background in industrial electronics came in handy for a project involving bees, radio frequencies, and antennas.

“Ryan’s work will enable us to better understand how different stresses like pesticide exposure or crop pollination might impact on hive vigour or their ability to survive long, cold winters,” Dr Quarrell said.

Now he has figured out the most reliable way to detect tagged bees, Ryan is starting his PhD to look at applying the technology commercially.

“My plan is to research how to improve pollination in protected cropping systems like poly tunnels and netted orchards,” he said.

He intends to work with the horticultural industry and develop research partnerships with growers around access, data sharing, and expertise.

“We can use the bee tagging technology to understand how to maintain hive health, in order to boost pollination for growers and their crops.”

Ryan said that hive owners who provide pollination services want to know if pesticides affect their bees and their honey.

“When you move bees into orchards, they are exposed to whatever chemicals are in the environment, such as pesticides.”

“I’d like to compare tagged bees in hives with and without pesticides, in the same netted crop with a known chemical history.”

“The radio tagging is a pretty powerful tool, because you can expose the bees to particular pesticides and then collect data on whether they’re less active or failing to return,” Ryan said.

The European Union recently decided to restrict the use of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, because of concerns they are linked with the collapse of honeybee colonies.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (AVPMA) has stated that it’s “not planning to review the use of neonicotinoids in Australia at this stage.”

Ryan said that a major advantage of researching honeybees in Tasmania is that hives here are relatively free of diseases and pests (such as Varroa mite).

“Hopefully the radio tagging technology could act as an early warning system, and we can find something to pre-empt the colony collapse we’re seeing elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Ryan Warren’s PhD project is part of the new National PhD Leadership Program in Horticulture, funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia and coordinated by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture at the University of Tasmania.

This article appeared in Tasmanian Country on 25 May 2018.

http://www.utas.edu.au/tia/news/news/bees-with-backpacks-move-from-lab-to-real-world

The Neonicotinoids: An Objective Assessment

Scientific Beekeeping     By Randy Oliver     April 2018

(I wrote this article in response to a request following a presentation that I gave to the San Diego Master Gardeners. A revised version was later published by the University of California at http://ucnfa.ucanr.edu/files/280172.pdf)

Everyone’s heard about the claim that honey bees are going extinct due to the neonicotinoid insecticides. Although I’m glad that folk are concerned about the bees, the fact is that that claim is not accurate.

People have every reason to be concerned about our human impact upon the environment, and many species face extinction due to habitat conversion, pollution, overharvesting, and climate change. But the honey bee is not one of them. In actuality, the number of managed hives of bees has been increasing in recent years in nearly every country in the world. Colony numbers reflect the profitability of beekeeping as a business, as reflected in the graph below.

The largest number of hives in the U.S. occurred during World War II, due to the Army’s demand for beeswax, and the public’s demand for honey. After the War, beekeeping was less profitable, and the number of hives decreased. We then got hit by the introduction of two parasitic mites in the late 1980’s, and hive numbers declined further as it became tougher to keep our colonies alive. In recent years, the offered price for hive rental for almond pollination tripled, so colony numbers are on the rise.

In the early 2000’s, our bees got hit by yet another invasive pathogen (Nosema ceranae), and the term “CCD” was used to describe the sudden collapse of colonies. But at the time we didn’t know what was happening, which allowed the claim that a new class of insecticides—the neonicotinoids—were responsible. It was a compelling narrative—was this a repeat of DDT causing the near extinction of the pelicans and raptors? I immediately started researching the subject, but found to my surprise, that the narrative didn’t fit the evidence. But that didn’t stop the anti-neonic bandwagon, and researchers switched from working on our main problem—the varroa mite—to trying to pin the blame on the neonics.

Although varroa was a hot topic upon its arrival in Europe and North America, scientific interest in the parasite was eclipsed during the CCD epidemic in the mid 2000’s by the sexier claim that the neonics were to blame.

Why The Neonics?

Growers have long used insecticides, many of which we now know are not at all environmentally friendly.

Since the founding of the EPA in the post Silent Spring era, we are taking a better look at the impacts of pesticides upon off-target organisms, the environmental fates of the products, and their long-term sublethal effects—especially upon humans. EPA has thus phased out the “Dirty Dozen” Persistent Organic Pollutants. And in recent years has revoked or restricted the use of a number of others. For example, the previously commonly-used organophosphate chlorpyrifos is no longer registered for use as a household bug spray.

The problem is, that as we limit the number of insecticides available to growers, pests develop resistance to regularly-applied products. That, and the fact that the vast majority of a sprayed insecticide never actually hits the intended pest—thus ending up in the air, water, and rest of the environment. Growers thus put pressure on the chemical companies to continually develop new types of pesticides, while the consumer demands safer products.

Enter The Neonicotinoids

The neonicotinoids (meaning new, nicotine-like) are synthetic derivatives of the natural plant alkaloid nicotine. The neonics affect specific receptors in the nervous system of insects that are less prevalent in vertebrate animals, so they are thus much safer for humans, other mammals, birds, and fish. In fact, the most commonly-used neonic, imidicloprid, is less toxic to humans than is caffeine.

The second advantage of the neonics is that they are systemic—they can be absorbed through a plant’s roots, and get carried via the xylem to the rest of the plant. Thus, if they are applied as a seed treatment, the only organisms exposed to the chemical are the pests that take a bite out of the plant, or consume the pollen or nectar (this is where bees enter the picture).

Because of these advantages, neonics quickly became the most widely-used insecticides in the world.

Effects Of Neonics On Bees

Neonics are ideally applied as seed treatments, where the amount per seed can be carefully controlled, so that by the time that a plant produces nectar and pollen, the residues are too diluted to harm pollinators.

Unfortunately, during the introduction of the neonics, there were some serious incidents of inadvertent bee kills when the seed coating rubbed off in pneumatic seed planters, and the dust killed bees. In most countries, this issue has now been resolved.

This leaves the question of neonic residues in nectar and pollen. In general, the residues in the nectar and pollen of properly-treated agricultural crops (typically less than 3 ppb) do not appear to cause significant adverse effects on honey bee colonies. I’ve personally visited beekeepers in corn, soy, and canola growing areas, and they report that since the Bt genetically-engineered crops and the neonic seed treatments, that the pesticide issues that they suffered from in the 1960’s and ‘70’s have largely gone away. That said…

The Neonics Are Not Without Problems

Insecticides by definition are designed to kill insects. No insecticide is environmentally harmless, and as we learn more about unintended effects, our regulators must revise the approved allowable applications.

We have now found that the honey bee colony is a special case, and is able to “buffer” the sublethal effects of the neonics on the colony. So although properly-applied neonics appear to generally cause minimal measureable adverse effects on honey bee colonies, they may have more deleterious effects upon bumblebees and solitary native bees. This is a serious concern, of which the EPA is well aware.


Another concern is that with the widespread prophylactic use of neonic seed treatment, more and more residues are ending up at the field margins and in aquatic ecosystems. We’re recently finding out that certain uncultivated plants in the field margins concentrate neonic residues in their nectar and/or pollen. A recent study in Saskatchewan found residues up to 20 ppb in some flowers—enough to start causing problems in bee hives (serious problems occur at 50 ppb), and strong adverse effects upon some native pollinators. These unintended effects upon native pollinators and aquatic invertebrates need to be addressed, and the universal use of treated seed should be restricted.

 

I’m heartened by a recent Court ruling regarding a challenge to EPA, which apparently did not consult with the FWS or the NMFS regarding its approval of some registrations of clothianidin–see https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/epa-pesticides-ruling.pdf

Uses Other Than As Seed Treatments

Neonics can also be applied as sprays, drenches, or other foliar applications, or by chemigation. There is far more room for misapplication by these methods. And perhaps worst of all would be misapplication by homeowners, who think that “if a little is good, more might be better.” Luckily, in the studies I’ve seen, urban and suburban bee-collected pollen and nectar normally does not contain toxic levels of neonics.

And this brings us to neonic applications in nursery stock. Nurserymen, in order to ship stock across state lines, must produce pest-free plants. This requires insecticides. But nurserymen do not want to expose their employees and customers to residues of organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos. They can avoid this by placing a measured amount of a neonic in the potting soil, which then, due to its systemic action, results in “clean” plants, and no human-harmful residues. Ideally, by the time a pollinator-attractive plant produces flowers, the residues would be diluted enough so as not to cause harm. The problem is, that no one has individually tested the thousands of cultivars of nursery plants. Plus there is no list of which cultivars attract pollinators.

There have been consumer protests at the big box nurseries, and nurserymen are scrambling to figure out answers.

Jim Bethke and I are currently involved in an IR-4 Project at Rutgers University to address this issue. Currently, we can’t really say which nursery plants might be problematic for pollinators. However, you can generally check a garden book to see if a cultivar is attractive to bees or butterflies; if so, at this time you may wish to avoid pollinator-attractive neonic-treated potted plants, and plant from seed instead.

Wrap Up

No insecticide is harmless. All of agriculture should shift towards Integrated Pest Management to reduce its reliance upon pesticides. California is the most proactive state in the Nation as far as safe pesticide use. The ag community and chemical companies have gotten the message loud and clear that the consumer wants them to reduce pesticide use and develop more eco-friendly pesticides—both of which they are doing.

Write to your representatives to support the EPA, which our current administration is attempting to shut down. Support local eco-friendly growers. Buying “organic” may help, but the best future will be the adoption of agro-ecology, which goes beyond “certified organic.” The field of agroecology is based upon biology, soil improvement, and sustainability, rather than upon “certified organic’s” arbitrary rules that exclude precision breeding and environmentally-friendly synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and practices. Keep in mind that it is the housewife who spends her dollars at the grocery store who can effect the most rapid change—even the largest agribusinesses respond immediately to consumer demand.

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/the-neonicotinoids-an-objective-assessment/

More Reading

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/the-extinction-of-the-honey-bee/

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/neonicotinoids-trying-to-make-sense-of-the-science/

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/neonicotinoids-trying-to-make-sense-of-the-science-part-2/

 

EU Nations Back Ban On Insecticides To Protect Honey Bees

REUTERS    By Philip Blenkinsop     April 2017 2018

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union countries backed a proposal on Friday to ban all use outdoors of insecticides known as neonicotinoids that studies have shown can harm bees.

The ban, championed by environmental activists, covers the use of three active substances - imidacloprid developed by Bayer CropScience, clothianidin developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience as well as Syngenta’s thiamethoxam.

“All outdoor uses will be banned and the neonicotinoids in question will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses where exposure of bees is not expected,” the European Commission said in a statement.

Bayer called the ban “a sad day for farmers and a bad deal for Europe” and said it would not help bees. Many farmers, it said, had no other way of controlling pests and that the result was more spraying and a return to older, less effective chemicals.

The use of neonicotinoids in the European Union has been restricted to certain crops since 2013, but environmental groups have called for a total ban and sparked a debate across the continent about the wider use of chemicals in farming.

Campaign group Friends of the Earth described the decision of EU governments a “tremendous victory” for bees and for the environment.

“The European Commission must now focus on developing a strong pollinator initiative that boosts bee-friendly habitat and helps farmers cut pesticide-use,” it said.

Both Bayer and Syngenta have challenged the 2013 partial ban at the European Court of Justice. A verdict is due on May 17.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-environment-bees/eu-to-fully-ban-neonicotinoid-insecticides-to-protect-bees-idUSKBN1HY11W

NOTE: From SumofUs

I'm writing quickly to let you know some breaking news: WE WON! The EU neonics ban just passed.

A majority of European governments voted in favour of the European Commission's proposal.

This is a massive win for the bees -- and you and SumOfUs members around the world have helped make this happen. Thank you so much for your incredible support!

I'll be in touch in the coming days with a more detailed report back.

In the meantime, let's celebrate!

Wiebke and rest of the SumOfUs team

P.S. It’s only thanks to SumOfUs members like you that we won this amazing and historic bee-saving ban. But the battle to save the bees is far from over. Bayer and co will not give up now and neither can we. To keep the bees safe from pesticide giants we need sustained support from members like you -- it’s the most powerful form of support. Please can you set up a small monthly donation today so that we can keep fighting for and saving the bees.