U.C. San Diego Nieh Research Lab

The Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association was honored to have Dr. James Nieh, Professor/Chief Investigator and Amy Geffre, PhD Candidate, share their latest honey bee research at our meeting, Monday, October 7, 2019.

Following are links to the US Can Diego Nieh Lab:

Honey bee health - https://labs.biology.ucsd.edu/nieh/honeybee_health.html
What’s new - https://labs.biology.ucsd.edu/nieh/inthenews.html
All our publications - https://labs.biology.ucsd.edu/nieh/publications.html

James C. Nieh
Professor, Section of Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution
Division of Biological Sciences

Office: Muir Biology Room 1116
(w) 858 822 5010
(fax) 858 534 7108

Mailing address for letters:
James C. Nieh
9500 Gilman Drive, MC 0116
La Jolla, CA 92093-0116

Mailing address for packages:
James C. Nieh
Biology Building Rm1121
7835 Trade St. Suite 100
San Diego, CA 92121-2460

You can email Amy Geffre at: ageffre@ucsd.edu

You can also access links to the UC San Diego Nieh Lab on the LACBA Education & Research page.

James Nieh To Speak at the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association Meeting October 7, 2019

Honey Bee Research

Professor James Nieh

Professor James Nieh

Research in the Nieh lab focuses on how natural and man-made stressors affect the biology of and cognitively sophisticated behaviors exhibited by bees. Our research focuses on two areas: (1) the selective pressures that may have shaped the evolution of communication in highly social bees and (2) honey bee health. We use the tools of Behavioral Ecology, Chemical Ecology, Animal Communication and Neuroethology to work with bumble bees, stingless bees, and honey bees. Five different topic areas are detailed below. For further information, please view the Nieh Lab Homepage.

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Evolution of Communication
Selective pressures from competitors and predators has shaped social bee communication. Our lab studies multiple bee groups: honey bees, stingless bees, and bumble bees to learn how this communication works and why it may have evolved.

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Honey Bee Health
Concern is growing over pollinator declines. Our lab examines the effects of natural stressors, such as pathogens, and man-made stressors, such as pesticides, on honey bee health, foraging, flight, and orientation.


Superorganism Inhibitory Communication
What happens if conditions change and the communicated food source becomes depleted, contested, or dangerous? The honey bee stop signal provides inhibition  that counteracts the positive feedback of honey bee waggle dances. Using field studies and modeling, we are studying this signal in detail and exploring conditions under which inhibitory signals may evolve.

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Superorganism Inhibitory Communication
We study olfactory eavesdropping in stingless bees and honey bees and examine the advantages of eavesdropping upon competitors and predators.


Neuroethology of Bee Learning and Memory
Despite their small brain size and limited number of neurons relative to the central nervous systems of many vertebrates, social insects have evolved sophisticated learning and memory abilities and are therefore important models for animal cognition. However, these abilities can be impaired by field-realistic exposure to pesticides and other man-made stressors.


Why 'Whispers' Among Bees Sometimes Evolve into 'Shouts'

The following is brought to us by the American Bee Journal    July 7, 2014

Let's say you're a bee and you've spotted a new and particularly lucrative source of nectar and pollen. What's the best way to communicate the location of this prize cache of food to the rest of your nestmates without revealing it to competitors, or "eavesdropping" spies, outside of the colony?

Many animals are thought to deter eavesdroppers by making their signals revealing the location or quality of resources less conspicuous to outsiders. In essence, they've evolved "whispers" in their signals to counter eavesdropping.

But some species of bees in Brazil do the exact opposite. "Shouts" in their food-recruitment signals warn would-be competitors that their prime source of food will be fiercely defended if they show up to the site. It's a communication strategy that's bold and risky, yet remarkably successful in warding off competitors, according to a paper published in the July 7 issue of the journal Current Biology.

"It's a signal with honest aspects and the possibility of lies," explains James Nieh, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who oversaw the research study conducted in Brazil by Elinor Lichtenberg, a PhD student in his laboratory who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University. "It tells nestmates where to find good food and hints at a larger occupying force."

Lichtenberg says her discovery of this counterintuitive method of communication by bees suggests that eavesdroppers can alter the evolution of animal signals in ways that were previously not thought possible.

"Our study provides a new way of looking at how eavesdroppers affect the evolution of animal communication signals," she adds. "Until now, it was thought that eavesdroppers select against conspicuous signals, for example by more easily finding and eating prey that sings loudly. But our results show that eavesdroppers can help select for the same conspicuous signals that are easiest for intended recipients to detect and understand."

To Nieh, whose research has focused on the evolution of communication strategies among bees, "eavesdropping is part of the information web, the signals and cues that surround animals and play a key role in shaping ecosystems."

In the case of bees and other pollinators, he says, "a network of signals and cues shapes pollination, informing animals about where and when food is available. Researchers have in general thought about eavesdropping as a force that makes signals less conspicuous, leading to the evolution of 'whispers' to counter spying. However, we show that eavesdropping can also lead to 'shouts.' In this stingless bee system, with aggressive colonies jockeying for limited resources, more conspicuous food-recruitment signals indicate a higher likelihood that a resource will be harder to wrest away."

Lichtenberg's study focused on stingless bees—including two from the genus Trigona that recruit nestmates to food sources with chemically distinct pheromones—that compete with one another for similar food sources. Trigona hyalinata spies that detect food sources marked by Trigona spinipes foragers will often displace T. spinipes from desirable sites in the wild if they can recruit sufficient nestmates. But Lichtenberg found in a controlled field study that the eavesdropping species will avoid desirable sources of food that have been visited frequently by T. spinipes (communicated by the larger number of pheromone markings at the site) to avoid being attacked. However, T. hyalinata foragers are attracted to food sources with fewer T. spinipes foragers.

The eavesdroppers could take over the highly visited sites by recruiting more of their nestmates or battling with T. spinipes bees, which show high levels of aggression toward intruders, but the risks and energy costs to the eavesdroppers apparently aren't worth the trouble.

The researchers supported this hypothesis by modeling eavesdropping bees' decision-making, using a type of model from economics. They ran the model for T. hyalinata eavesdropping on T. spinipesT. spinipes on T. hyalinata, and the non-aggressive Melipona rufiventris on T. spinipes. In all three cases, they found that the model results matched eavesdropping behavior measured in this study and in previous work by Lichtenberg, Nieh and colleagues.

"Assembling such a group in the nest after having found a food source through eavesdropping uses time and energy the eavesdropper could otherwise spend looking for an unoccupied food source," explains Lichtenberg. "If the eavesdropper brings too small a group to an occupied food source and cannot win access to it, she and the bees accompanying her have essentially wasted energy. For attacks between colonies of the same species, there is also a risk that the conflict will escalate to physical interactions in which large numbers of bees may die."

"Our study is one of the first to investigate what drives the behavior of eavesdroppers collecting information from competitors within the same trophic level, which use the same food resources as the eavesdropper," she adds. "Previous eavesdropping research has mainly focused on individuals seeking mates, predators looking for prey or prey trying to avoid being eaten. In those cases, eavesdroppers' expected behavior is clear. This is not true for eavesdropping on competitors."

The study not only provides information about the evolution of different strategies of animal communication, but suggests how these strategies can affect the ecology of plant communities. "Such strategies affect not only the individuals directly involved, but also broader ecological interactions between the food-gatherers and their food," Lichtenberg says. "This is particularly important for animals such as the bees I studied, because their movements determine plant pollination."

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Fear of Predators Drives Honey Bees Away from Good Food Sources

Science Daily 10/2/13

Most of us think of honey bees as having a bucolic, pastoral existence -- flying from flower to flower to collect the nectar they then turn into honey. But while they're capable of defending themselves with their painful stings, honey bees live in a world filled with danger in which predators seize them from the sky and wait to ambush them on flowers.

Such fear drives bees to avoid food sources closely associated with predators and, interestingly, makes colonies of bees less risk-tolerant than individual bees, according to a study published in this week's issue of the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

"This strategy of colonies collectively exhibiting significantly more caution than the riskier individual foragers may help honey bees exploit all of the available food sources, with some intrepid foragers visiting more dangerous food while the colony judiciously decides how to best allocate its foraging," says James Nieh, a professor of biology at UC San Diego.

Nieh worked with scientists at Yunnan Agricultural University in China to study the impact on foraging Asian honey bees of the monstrous-looking Asian Giant hornet, Vespa tropica, and a smaller hornet species known as Vespa velutina, which has invaded Europe and now poses a threat to European honey bees.

"The Asian Giant hornets are dangerous, heavily armored predators," says Ken Tan, the first author of the paper, who also works at the Chinese Academy of Science's Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. "Bee colonies respond by forming balls of defending bees, encasing the hornet and, in some cases, cooking it to death with heat generated by the bees."

The researchers found that bees treated the bigger hornet species, which is four times more massive than the smaller species, as more dangerous. In a series of experiments, they presented bees with different combinations of safe and dangerous feeders -- depending on their association with the larger or smaller hornets -- containing varying concentrations of sucrose.

"Bees avoided the dangerous feeders and preferred feeders that provided sweeter nectar," says Nieh. "However, predators are clever and can focus on sweeter food, ones which bees prefer. So we also tested how bees would respond when sweeter food was also more dangerous. What we found was that the individual bees were more risk-tolerant. They avoided the giant hornet at the best food, but continued to visit the lower quality food with the smaller hornet."

Other scientists involved in the research were Zongwen Hu, Weiwen Chen, Zhengwei Wang and Yuchong Wang, all of the Eastern Bee Research Institute of Yunnan Agricultural University.

Read more... http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131002141155.htm