Pollen Deprived Bees Don't Make Good Dancers

The New York Times   By Sindya N. Bhanoo   April 20, 2015

Worker bees without access to adequate pollen early in life turn out to be poor foragers, and dancers, as adults.

The bees’ so-called waggle dance, a figure-eight movement, is used to tell other members of the colony how far and in what direction to fly to find flowers. If the pollen-deprived bees went out to forage, they often did not return, said Heather Mattila, a biologist at Wellesley College..

Dr. Mattila and Hailey Scofield, an undergraduate student, raised one group of bees with limited access to pollen and another with adequate pollen. They combined the bees in one hive and observed them. Their study was published this month in PLOS One.

“Pollen-stressed workers were less likely to waggle dance, and if they danced, the information they conveyed was less precise,” Dr. Mattila said.

Outside the lab, bees encounter pollen stress regularly. At the beginning of spring, for instance, cold weather makes it difficult to search for pollen, and flowers have not fully bloomed.

Poor foraging and waggle dancing could add to the decline in honeybees, and threaten crops like apples and almonds that depend on the insects for pollination, Dr. Mattila said.

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