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

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.

How the Hell Do You Vaccinate a Bee?

HAARETZ By Ruth Schuster December 18, 2018

a bee Credit: AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/ REUTERS

a bee Credit: AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/ REUTERS

Scientists propose to inoculate bees against deadly diseases
reportedly decimating their colonies lest we all starve, and no,
vaccines don’t cause autism in insects either

Many and myriad a solution has been touted for the catastrophes reportedly afflicting bee colonies around the world, spurring fears that the loss of their pollinating powers will lead to massive crop losses.

Honeycomb with bees. credit: philippe wojazer, reuters

Honeycomb with bees. credit: philippe wojazer, reuters

The latest wrinkle is to vaccinate the insects against diseases implicated in colony collapse disorder, a method (dubbed PrimeBEE) developed by two scientists in the University of Helsinki, Dalial Freitak and Heli Salmela, and reported by AFP and ZME Science.

Dead bees killed by mite infestation. Credit: Getty Images IL

Dead bees killed by mite infestation. Credit: Getty Images IL

There is no consensus about the extent of the problem, or even whether bee colony collapse disorder is a thing, let alone a worsening thing. Some experts claim that declines in world bee populations is a natural fluctuation or that, in any case, it is reversible. The cause of the declining bee populations is variously ascribed to pesticides, geomagnetic disturbances (impairing the bees’ navigation), vampire-like mites, viruses, sunspots (navigation again), bacteria, fungi, climate change, and malnutrition. Or a combination of some or all of these. Some even claim that although there is a problem, its dimensions have been egregiously overstated.

The one thing we’re sure of is that bees are good, certainly since we have abandoned a life of hunting and grubbing for roots in favor of industrial farming. Around a third of the plants people eat require pollination (grains don’t), and while fruit bats and other living beings play their part, bees are estimated to be responsible for about a third of that. No question, the insect is crucial to food security.

Fruit bats are lovely but no replacement for bees. credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Fruit bats are lovely but no replacement for bees. credit: Tomer Appelbaum

So, whether or not colony collapse is a thing, clearly prevention is worth an ounce of honey. A riot of flower species are being planted or just allowed to grow between European crop fields, to vary the bees’ sources of nectar for the sake of their nutrition; in England, farmers have been planting hedgerows and trees because honey bees prefer them to “just” flowers.

Scientists have experimented with fighting mite infestations by a method involving exposing the bees to cold (by, er, shutting them in the fridge), while others are monkeying around with rich solutions to augment their feed.

Some people propose to replace the humbled honeybee with other more robust bee species, bats or whatever. (Robot bees don’t seem to be the answer.) And now Finnish scientists have invented the first-ever vaccines for bees. One gets a mental picture of a nimble-fingered scientist armed with an extremely fine needle and infinite patience. But one would be wrong.

bees in a hive. credit: chris o’meara, ap

bees in a hive. credit: chris o’meara, ap

The inoculating chemical is put into a sugar cube that is fed to the queen bee, who passes the immunity onto her offspring. The scientists have begun their testing process with a sugar-coated vaccine against so-called “American foulbrood” – a fatal bacterial condition that actually affects bees around the world. Unhappily for our friends the bees, foulbrood is caused by sporulating bacteria, meaning hardy ones, and it’s highly infectious. It infects and kills bee larvae, not adults, hence the name.

The bee vaccination technique will take some four to five years to perfect, lead researcher Freitak told AFP.

Intriguingly, bee vaccination isn’t about injecting an antigen that provokes production of antibodies. Insect immune systems don’t have antibodies, but as the University of Helsinki explains, Freitak had noticed (in moths) that if the parents eat certain bacteria in their food, their offspring show elevated immune responses to that germ. Ultimately, this led to the thought of a delivery system of the vaccination via food. They started with foulbrood because it’s so deadly and infectious. Right now, the technique is being tested for safety, following which commercialization can ensue.

Also, given that vaccinations do not cause autism in people (with all due respect to the lunatic fringe), there’s no reason to think they cause mental acuity or behavioral issues in bees.

Although much work remains to be done – including to adapt the technique to a lot more bacteria, fungi and other nasties – as Freitak stated: “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.”

It isn't clear if colony collapse syndrome is a huge problem or hype: Meanwhile, here are some bees flying around. credit: bloomberg

It isn't clear if colony collapse syndrome is a huge problem or hype: Meanwhile, here are some bees flying around. credit: bloomberg

How to Autopsy a Honey Bee Colony

Beverly Bees     By Anita Deeley

 Looking through a hive that died for clues.

So your hive died, now what do you do?  The first thing to do after you discover a dead hive is to autopsy a honey bee colony and look for signs of disease, varroa and anything else you think may have caused the colony’s demise.

Continue reading: https://www.beverlybees.com/how-to-autopsy-a-honey-bee-colony/

(Note: Thank you to Jaime E. Garza, Apiary/Agricultural Standards Inspector, Department of Agriculture, Weights & Measures, County of San Diego, for the link and comments: “If your bee colonies are weak or if they die off this fall/winter here is a helpful resource to help you review what could have led to the colonies demise.”)

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

Randy Oliver Workshop August 25 & 26, 2018 presented by the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association

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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

Refrigerating Honey Bees to Fight Mites, Colony Collapse

Washington State University     By Scott Weybright, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resouce Sciences     April 23, 2018

PULLMAN, Wash. – Saving Honey Bees Is Easier When Varroa Mite Infestation Is Reduced. WSU Researchers Are Hoping Mid-Season Hibernation Can Help In The Fight Against The Mighty Mites.

The black bump on this honey bee's back is a varroa mite. Mites weaken bees’ immune systems, transmit viruses, and siphon off nutrients. Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Varroa Mites Are Pests That Weaken Bees’ Immune Systems, Transmit Viruses And Siphon Off Nutrients. They’re A Huge Factor In Colony Collapse Around The Country.

“Most Treatments Only Kill Varroa On Adult Bees, And Are Generally Only Effective For Three Days,” Said Brandon Hopkins, Assistant Professor Of Entomology And Manager Of The WSU Bee Program. “But A Lot Of Mites Live In The Brood, Which Are Under A Wax Cap That Treatments Can’t Touch. Those Bees Hatch Out And Are Already Afflicted.”

Currently, Treating For Mites Requires Three Treatments Over A 21-Day Period To Make Sure You Treat All The New Bees That Come Out Infested With Mites.

These Treatments Are Difficult And Expensive Because Beekeepers Must Treat All Their Colonies On A Specific Schedule. It’s Very Labor Intensive To Treat Thousands Of Colonies By Hand Three Times At Precise Timing Cycles, Hopkins Said.

Cold Storage

Bees Don’t Truly Hibernate, But They Do Change Their Behavior In Winter. Queens Stop Laying Eggs, So No New ‘Brood’ Is Created At That Time.

Last August, WSU Researchers Put 200 Honey Bee Colonies Into Refrigerated Storage. This Is A Time When Bees Are Still Active, But Have Finished Making Honey For The Season, And There Are No Crops That Require Pollination. It’s Also When Beekeepers Normally Do A Round Of Mite Treatments.

By Placing Colonies In Refrigerators, The Queen Stops Laying New Eggs, Which Stops The Production Of Brood. When The Bees Come Out Of Refrigeration, There Is No ‘Capped Brood’.

At That Point, Hopkins And His Team Apply A Varroa Treatment On The Adult Bees.

The Initial Results Were Overwhelmingly Positive. Researchers Found An Average Of Five Mites Per 100 Bees On The Control Colonies (Not Refrigerated) One Month After The Normal Three-Cycle Mite Treatment.

The Refrigerated Colonies Had An Average Of 0.2 Mites Per 100 Bees One Month After The Single Mite Treatment.

“That’s A Significant Decrease,” Hopkins Said. “Refrigeration Is Expensive, So We Need To Do More Work To Prove The Cost Is Worth It For Beekeepers, But We’re Really Excited So Far.”

Additionally, The Infestation Levels Varied Tremendously From Colony To Colony In The Control Samples. That’s Because Of The Difficulty In Treating Colonies Consistently Over Three Cycles. The Colonies That Had The Refrigeration Treatment Had Consistent Mite Numbers With Little Variation.

Doubling Down

Brandon Hopkins in his bee lab.

After Hearing About This Research, A Few Beekeepers Approached The WSU Scientists About Doing A Similar Round Of Refrigeration In The Early Spring. Most Commercial Beekeepers In The U.S. Take Their Colonies To California For Almond Pollination In February And March. But There’s A Time Gap Between The End Of The Almond Pollination Season And The Start Of Pollination Season In The Northwest.

“Beekeepers Generally Have Two Periods Of Time For Mite Treatments, Before The Bees Make Honey And After,” Hopkins Said.

Once Bees Have Mites, The Infestation Increases During The Pollination And Honey Production Months.

“But If They Can Start With Low Mite Numbers, The Bees Are Healthier During The Honey Production Period,” Hopkins Said. “A Lot Of Varroa Damage Comes While The Bees Are Making Honey.”

Calculated Risk With 100 Colonies

This Spring, Belliston Bros., A Commercial Idaho Beekeeper, Donated 100 Honey Bee Colonies To Do A Refrigeration Study Just Like The One Done In August Last Year.

“It’s A Big Risk For Them,” Hopkins Said. “But If It Works, Beekeepers Would Have Significantly Better Varroa Control While Using Fewer Chemicals. And They’ll Have Better Colony Survival During The Following Pollinating Season. It’s A Win All-Around.”

Nobody Really Knows How Bees Will React To Being Put Back Into Their Winter Mode In What Is Normally The Middle Of Their Active Season, He Said. But That’s What Science Is All About. And If This Works, It Could Be A Major And Environmentally Sound Victory In The Great Varroa Mite Battle That Beekeepers Have Been Waging For Decades.

“We’re Hopeful,” Hopkins Said. “We Won’t Have Results Back For Several Months, But We’re Excited We May Have A Way To Help Beekeepers Keep Their Colonies Strong And Stable.”

https://news.wsu.edu/2018/04/23/refrigerating-honey-bees-fight-colony-collapse/

Newly Identified Bacteria May Help Bees Nourish Their Young

Phys.org     By Sarah Nightingale (University of Riverside)     April 13, 2018

UC Riverside researchers have identified three new species of bacteria that live on both wild flowers and bees. Credit: UC Riverside A team of researchers at the University of California, Riverside have isolated three previously unknown bacterial species from wild bees and flowers. The bacteria, which belong to the genus Lactobacillus, may play a role in preserving the nectar and pollen that female bees store in their nests as food for their larvae.

The results were published Thursday in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The study was led by Quinn McFrederick, an assistant professor of entomology in UCR's College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences.

Symbiotic bacteria that live in bee guts are believed to promote bee health by helping to digest food and boost immunity. Compared to honeybees and bumblebees, little is known about the microbial communities associated with wild bees, despite the important role these insects play in the pollination of flowering plants.

To study the bacteria associated with wild bees, McFrederick and co-authors collected wild bees and flowers from two sites in Texas and on the UCR campus. Genomic DNA sequencing coupled with traditional taxonomic analyses confirmed the isolation of three new Lactobacillus species, which are closely related to the honeybee-associated bacteria Lactobacillus kunkeei. The news strains are:

Lactobacillus micheneri, named after Charles D. Michener to honor his contributions to the study of bees in natural habitats.

Lactobacillus timberlakei, named after Philip Timberlake to honor his work on the taxonomy of native bees, especially at UC Riverside.

Lactobacillus quenuiae, named after Cécile Plateaux-Quénu to honor her contribution to our understanding of the social biology of halictid bees.

Lactobacilli are often used by humans to preserve dairy products, fermented vegetables and other foods. The study by McFrederick's group suggests the newly identified species may help bees in a similar way, inhibiting the growth of fungi inside pollen provisions. McFrederick's group is currently conducting research to further explore this hypothesis.

"Wild bees lay their eggs inside chambers filled with nectar and pollen," McFrederick said. Once an egg has been laid, it may take several days to hatch and an additional week for the larvae to eat through all the nectar and pollen, so it is important that these provisions don't spoil during this period."

McFrederick said it is interesting that the bacteria were able to live on both wild flowers and bees.

"The species we isolated have fairly small genomes and not as many genes as you would expect considering they survive in two different environments," McFrederick said.

More information: Quinn S. McFrederick et al, Lactobacillus micheneri sp. nov., Lactobacillus timberlakei sp. nov. and Lactobacillus quenuiae sp. nov., lactic acid bacteria isolated from wild bees and flowers, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology (2018). DOI: 10.1099/ijsem.0.002758 

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-04-newly-bacteria-bees-nourish-young.html#jCp

How Bees Defend Against Some Controversial Insecticides

ScienceNews.org     By Dan Garisto    March 22, 2018

Researchers have discovered enzymes that can help resist some neonicotinoids

WHAT’S THE BUZZ Honeybees (shown) and bumblebees can resist a type of neonicotinoid insecticide thanks to a family of enzymes that metabolize toxic compounds.

Honeybees and bumblebees have a way to resist toxic compounds in some widely used insecticides.

These bees make enzymes that help the insects break down a type of neonicotinoid called thiacloprid, scientists report March 22 in Current Biology. Neonicotinoids have been linked to negative effects on bee health, such as difficulty reproducing in honeybees (SN: 7/26/16, p 16). But bees respond to different types of the insecticides in various ways. This finding could help scientists design versions of neonicotinoids that are less harmful to bees, the researchers say.

Such work could have broad ramifications, says study coauthor Chris Bass, an applied entomologist at the University of Exeter in England. “Bees are hugely important to the pollination of crops and wild flowers and biodiversity in general.”

Neonicotinoids are typically coated on seeds such as corn and sometimes sprayed on crops to protect the plants from insect pests. The chemicals are effective, but their use has been suspected to be involved in worrisome declines in numbers of wild pollinators (SN Online: 4/5/12).  

Maj Rundlöf, of Lund University in Sweden, helped raise the alarm about the insecticides. In 2015, she reported that neonicotinoid-treated crops reduced the populations of bees that fed from the plants. Rundlöf, who was not involved with the new study, says the new research is important because it clarifies differences between the insecticides. “All neonicotinoids are not the same,” she says. “It’s a bit unrealistic to damn a whole group of pesticides.”

Bass and his colleagues, which include scientists from Bayer, one of the main producers of neonicotinoids, investigated resistance to thiacloprid by looking at bees’ defense systems. The team focused on enzymes known as P450s, which can metabolize toxic chemicals, breaking them down before they affect the bee nervous system. The researchers used drugs to inhibit groups of P450 enzymes. When the family enzymes called CYP9Q was inhibited, bees became 170 times as sensitive to thiacloprid, dying from a much smaller dose, the researchers found. Discovering the enzymes’ protective power could lead to more effective ways to simultaneously avoid harming bees and help crops.

“We live in an era that uses pesticides,” Rundlöf says. “We need to figure out the ones that are safest.”

Citations:
C. Manjon et al. Unravelling the molecular determinants of bee sensitivity to neonicotinoid insecticides. Current Biology. Published online March 22, 2018. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.045.

Further Reading:
L. Hamers. Much of the world’s honey now contains bee-harming pesticides. Science News. Vol. 192, October 28, 2017, p. 16.

S. Milius. Neonicotinoids are partial contraceptives for male honeybees. Science News. Vol. 190, August 20, 2016, p. 16.

S. Milius. Bees may like neonicotinoids, but some may be harmed. Science News. Vol. 187, May 16, 2015, p. 13.

J. Raloff. Yet another study links insecticide to bee losses. Science News Online, April 5, 2012.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/how-bees-defend-against-some-controversial-insecticides

NC State Researcher Awarded Grant to Improve Honeybee Health

NC State University     By Dee Shore     March 14, 2018

David Tarpy, of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, leads new CALS research related to honeybee health.With a grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research’s Pollinator Health Fund, NC State University scientist David Tarpy is researching the impact of pesticide exposure on honeybee colony disease prevalence and reproductive potential.

Tarpy, a professor of entomology and plant pathology and the NC State Extension apiculturist, recently received a $217,000 grant from FFAR, a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill. The FFAR grant is being matched by a graduate fellowship from the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation Inc., supporting a Ph.D. student in the NC State Apiculture Program, Joe Milone.

Milone and Tarpy’s research will generate new knowledge about the multiple interacting stressors that lead to declines in pollinator populations. “By studying the interactions among queens, pesticides and disease, we are determining how the entire exposome – or all of the things that the queen and colony are exposed to – affects overall bee health,” Tarpy said.

Noting that managed and native pollinators are vital to many crop production systems and the ecological resources that support them, FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey congratulated Tarpy and NC State for undertaking research that will inform science-based approaches to improving pollinator health.

FFAR established its Pollinator Health Fund in response to the agricultural threat posed by declining pollinator health. Insect pollinators contribute an estimated $24 billion to the United States economy annually.

NC State is one of 16 organizations that received a total of $7 million in FFAR funding toward research and technology development designed to contribute to healthy pollinator populations that support crop yields and agricultural ecosystems.

To learn more about the FFAR Pollinator Health Fund, please visit foundationfar.org/pollinator-health-fund/.

https://cals.ncsu.edu/news/nc-state-researcher-awarded-grant-to-improve-honeybee-health/

16 Grants Totaling $7 Million For Research

FFAR      March 13, 2018

Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research Awards $7 Million to 16 Research Teams Advancing Science and Technology to Improve Pollinator Health

Geoffrey Williams, Ph.D., Auburn University assistant professor of entomology and plant biology, is leading a FFAR Pollinator Health Fund grant to study the interactions between two causes of honey bee decline: pesticides and Varroa mites.WASHINGTON, March 13, 2018 – The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, today announced 16 grants totaling $7 million for research to address declining pollinator health, an ongoing threat to agricultural productivity in the United States. The FFAR awards are matched by more than 50 companies, universities, organizations and individuals for a total investment of $14.3 million toward research and technology development.

Insect pollinators support crop yields and agricultural ecosystems and contribute an estimated 24 billion dollars to the United States economy annually. New technology, knowledge and best practice guidance tailored to specific regions and land uses has potential to accelerate efforts to improve pollinator health across the United States. Researchers funded through the Pollinator Health Fund are working to address social and economic challenges faced by beekeepers, farmers, home owners and other land managers across the United States.

“Declines in native and managed insect pollinator populations threaten both the agricultural systems that sustain us and the ecosystems that surround us,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of FFAR. “The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support these 16 research teams who will bring new scientific rigor, best practices and technology to current efforts toward improving pollinator health in the United States.”

The following Principle Investigators are leading research projects supported by the Pollinator Health Fund. Grants were awarded to successful applications to a competitive call for proposals in which applicants were required to secure funding to match the FFAR grant.

Kristen Baum, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University, is working with collaborators to investigate how floral choice, nutrition, and agrochemicals influence the health of native bees and honey bees across land uses in the Southern Great Plains witha $233,708 FFAR grant.

Steven Cook, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, is collaborating with multiple stakeholder groups to develop and test novel controls for the parasitic mite Varroa destructor, an ongoing threat to honey bee colonies, with a $ 475,559 FFAR grant.                    

Margaret Couvillon, Ph.D., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, is examining pollinator behavior in different landscapes to determine where and when planting supplemental forage could have the most positive effect on pollinator nutrition with a $614,067 FFAR grant.

Sandra DeBano, Ph.D., Oregon State University, is researching the impact of livestock grazing, invasive weeds and the fires used to control those weeds on native bees inhabiting range and pasturelands with a $321,127 FFAR grant.

Deborah Finke, Ph.D, University of Missouri, is developing best seed planting practices to improve bumblebee and monarch habitat and collaborating with the Missouri Department of Conservation and other state organizations to share guidance with homeowners, landowners, farmers and agricultural consultants with a $353,044 FFAR grant.

Timothy Gibb, Ph.D., Purdue University, is developing public school curricula and training high school students and teachers to catalyze pollinator protection action in their communities with a $297,499 FFAR grant.

Christina Gorzinger, Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University, is leading a team of researchers from Penn State, University of Minnesota, University of California, Davis, and Dickinson College to develop online decision support tools to help beekeepers, growers, plant producers, land managers and gardeners better select and manage diverse landscapes to promote healthy managed and wild bee populations with a $1,177,137 FFAR grant.

Andony Melathopoulos, Ph.D., Oregon State University, is conducting research and outreach to develop, implement and evaluate crop-specific best practices that meet the unique agronomic challenges for managing pollinator populations in the Pacific Northwest with a $544,929 FFAR grant.

Lisa Schulte Moore, Ph.D., Iowa State University of Science and Technology, is leading an interdisciplinary research team to study whether integrating strips of prairie habitat in crop fields might improve managed and native pollinator health with a $503,028 FFAR grant.

Lauren Ponisio, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside, is measuring the effectiveness of recommended almond orchard management practices in reducing the negative impacts of pesticides, parasites and inadequate nutrition on crop pollinators with a $490,355 FFAR grant.

Sandra Rehan, Ph.D., University of New Hampshire, is training scientists and developing new educational resources for identification of New England wild bees and region-specific habitat planting recommendations with a $546,511 FFAR grant.

Clare Rittschof, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, is researching whethercover cropping practices that allow for winter weed growth can enhance pollinator habitat on agricultural land with a $120,900 FFAR grant.      

Arathi Seshadri, Ph.D., Colorado State University, is working to arm Colorado beekeepers with new knowledge to support pollinator health by studying the impact of phytochemicals, nutritional diversity and metabolic capacity on honeybee health with a $488,000 FFAR grant.

Barbara Sharanowski, Ph.D., University of Central Florida, is engaging citizens across the country to plant native wildflowers in their yards and collect pollinator population data using a mobile app with a $338,613 FFAR grant.

David Tarpy, Ph.D., North Carolina State University, is investigating the impact of pesticide exposure on honeybee colony disease prevalence and reproductive potential with a $217,000 FFAR grant.

Geoffrey Williams, Ph.D., Auburn University, is studying the interactions between pesticides and Varroa mites, and whether beekeepers can take advantage of honey bee mating behavior to improve resistance to pesticides, with a $283,000 FFAR grant.

To learn more about the FFAR Pollinator Health Fund and these research projects, please visit foundationfar.org/pollinator-health-fund/.

About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges.  FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Learn more: www.foundationfar.org Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

http://foundationfar.org/2018/03/13/7-million-to-pollinator-health/

Scientific Beekeeping: Research on Oxalic Acid

Scientific Beekeeping     By Randy Oliver     February 22, 2018

 Hi All,

Thanks so much for your feedback on the mite model--I received over 700 responses, many with constructive comments that I forwarded to the class.  Voting went overwhelmingly to the original graph--596 for it; 26 for the individual graphs; 11 for both.  I suggested to the class a way to present all options--taking first-time users step-by-step, with options.

I'm heartened by the number of you worldwide who have already used the mite model.  Your feedback and notes of appreciation make my day!

I'm currently deep into cage trials to attempt to determine the optimal formula for the extended-release oxalic acid treatment.  I'm trying different ratios of OA to glycerin, as well as using the very similar food-grade solvent propylene glycol.  I'm finding that both humidity and degree of saturation of the towels can make huge differences in whether the treatment hurts the bees.


I've also figured out how to quantify the precise amount of oxalic acid on the bees' bodies using titration:


I'm able to accurately quantify the amount of OA to less than 1/10,000th of a gram!  I now know how much OA is harmful to the bees, and will soon resume testing to see how little is necessary to kill the mites.

I've recently posted three new articles:

Not surprisingly, the first is Progress Report #3 on the above topic of the extended-release oxalic treatment.

The next two are numbers 14 and 15 in my "The Varroa Problem" series.
One discusses in-hive virus dynamics and the need for early mite treatment.
The other models the expected effect of various mite treatment options, especially repeated oxalic acid vaporizations (would also apply to sugar dusting).

Here at home, our beekeeping season is well underway.  Almond bloom in California is nearing an end, just as frosty air moved in to threaten the nutlets with freezing.  We've suddenly gone from a balmy early spring, to winter conditions.  Indeed, we started grafting queen cells as it was snowing.  My sons Eric and Ian are doing a great job at taking over the operation--we went to almonds with our highest colony count yet, and graded at over 15 frames average in those orchards that got graded per contract--giving them a nice bonus!

Happy Beekeeping to All!

Randy

(Please note: Randy Oliver's research on oxalic acid is supported entirely by donations from beekeepers.)

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/

Chemicals In Brain That Make Honeybees More Likely To Sting Discovered

Phys.org     By Bob Yirka     January 31, 2018

Credit: CC0 Public DomainA team of researchers from France and Australia has identified the neurological mechanism that underlies honeybee aggression in response to threats. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the group describes their study of honeybees and what they found.

Most people know that if you disturb a beehive, it is not just the guards that come after you, it is generally most of the bees in the hive. But what neurological mechanism is involved in causing the other bees to attack? This is what the researchers with this new effort sought to learn.

The team started with the knowledge that bees secrete pheromones as a means of communication—and prior research has shown that one of the main components in honeybee pheromones is isoamyl acetate. Suspecting it likely served as a trigger, the researchers exposed bees in their lab to the substance and then measured their brain chemicals to see what happened. They report that the bees experienced an immediate rise in dopamine and serotonin levels.

As part of their study, the researchers also tested bees from four hives that served different roles—guard bees from two of the hives in particular showed a greater desire to sting than those from the other two hives when stoked. The researchers found that the two more aggressive bees had higher levels of serotonin in their central brains, suggesting it was the chemical responsible for elevating aggression.

Further tests showed that exposing bees to isoamyl acetate caused an increase in production of both dopamine and serotonin levels in the central brain, which in turn led to an increased desire to attack and sting. They also noted that serotonin levels were even higher in brain parts used in controlling aggressive behavior such as the sub-oesophageal zone and the optic lobes. The researchers also found that the more of the pheromone the bees were exposed to, the more aggressive they became. They also found that reducing serotonin levels using an antidote caused a reduction in aggressive behavior.

The researchers suggest their findings indicate that they have identified the neural mechanism involved in inciting bees throughout a hive to attack after guards outside identify a threat.

 Explore further: South Central Texas residents bewildered by recent bee behavior

More information: Morgane Nouvian et al. Cooperative defence operates by social modulation of biogenic amine levels in the honey bee brain, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.2653

Abstract 
The defence of a society often requires that some specialized members coordinate to repel a threat at personal risk. This is especially true for honey bee guards, which defend the hive and may sacrifice their lives upon stinging. Central to this cooperative defensive response is the sting alarm pheromone, which has isoamyl acetate (IAA) as its main component. Although this defensive behaviour has been well described, the neural mechanisms triggered by IAA to coordinate stinging have long remained unknown. Here we show that IAA upregulates brain levels of serotonin and dopamine, thereby increasing the likelihood of an individual bee to attack and sting. Pharmacological enhancement of the levels of both amines induces higher defensive responsiveness, while decreasing them via antagonists decreases stinging. Our results thus uncover the neural mechanism by which an alarm pheromone recruits individuals to attack and repel a threat, and suggest that the alarm pheromone of honey bees acts on their response threshold rather than as a direct trigger.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-01-chemicals-brain-honeybees.html#jCp

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Worldwide Importance Of Honey Bees For Natural Habitats Captured In New Report

UC San Diego News Center     By Mario Aguilera     January 10, 2018

Global synthesis of data reveals honey bees as world's key pollinator of non-crop plants

Non-native honey bees crowding at a flower of the native coast pricklypear cactus (Opuntia littoralis) in Southern California. Credit: James Hung/UC San DiegoAn unprecedented study integrating data from around the globe has shown that honey bees are the world’s most important single species of pollinator in natural ecosystems and a key contributor to natural ecosystem functions. The first quantitative analysis of its kind, led by biologists at the University of California San Diego, is published Jan. 10 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The report weaves together information from 80 plant-pollinator interaction networks. The results clearly identify the honey bee (Apis mellifera) as the single most frequent visitor to flowers of naturally occurring (non-crop) plants worldwide. Honey bees were recorded in 89 percent of the pollination networks in the honey bee’s native range and in 61 percent in regions where honey bees have been introduced by humans.

One out of eight interactions between a non-agricultural plant and a pollinator is carried out by the honey bee, the study revealed. The honey bee’s global importance is further underscored when considering that it is but one of tens of thousands of pollinating species in the world, including wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, moths and other bee species.

“Biologists have known for a while that honey bees are widespread and abundant—but with this study, we now see in quantitative terms that they are currently the most successful pollinators in the world,” said Keng-Lou James Hung, who led the study as a graduate student in UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences. He’s now a postdoctoral researcher at the Ohio State University.

The proportion of all floral visits contributed by the western honey bee in 80 plant-pollinator interaction networks in natural habitats worldwide. Honey bees are generally considered a native species in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and introduced elsewhere.Honey bees are native to Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe and have become naturalized in ecosystems around the world as a result of intentional transport by humans. While feral honey bee populations may be healthy in many parts of the world, the researchers note that the health of managed honey bee colonies is threatened by a host of factors including habitat loss, pesticides, pathogens, parasites and climate change.

“Although they appear to have a disproportionate impact on natural ecosystems, surprisingly we understand very little about the honey bee’s ecological effects in non-agricultural systems,” said study coauthor David Holway, a professor and chair of the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution in Biological Sciences. “Looking to the future this study raises a lot of new questions.”

For instance, in San Diego, where honey bees are not native, they are responsible for 75 percent of pollinator visits to native plants, the highest honey bee dominance in the set of networks examined for any continental site in the introduced range of the honey bee. This is despite the fact that there are more than 650 species of native bees in San Diego County as well as many other native pollinating insects.

“The consequences of this phenomenon for both native plants that did not evolve with the honey bee and for populations of native insect pollinators is well worth studying,” said Joshua Kohn, the study’s senior author.

“Our study also nicely confirms something that pollination biologists have known for a long time: even in the presence of a highly abundant species that pollinates many plant species, we still need healthy populations of other pollinators for entire plant communities to receive adequate pollination services,” said Hung.

A honey bee pollinates a Carpobrotus edulis plant. The photo was taken by James Hung during field work on plant-pollinator interactions in scrub habitats in San Diego. Credit: James Hung/UC San Diego

The reason for this, Hung noted, is that in habitats where honey bees are present, they nevertheless fail to visit nearly half of all animal-pollinated plant species, on average.

“Our take home message is that while it’s important for us to continue to research how we can improve the health of managed honey bee colonies for agricultural success, we need to further understand how this cosmopolitan and highly successful species impacts the ecology and evolutionary dynamics of plant and pollinator species in natural ecosystems,” said Hung.

Coauthors of the study include Jennifer Kingston of UC San Diego and Matthias Albrecht of Agroecology and Environment, Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse, in Switzerland.

Funding for the study included a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DEB-1501566); a Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant and an Institute for the Study of Ecological and Evolutionary Climate Impacts Graduate Fellowship from the University of California Natural Reserve System; a Frontiers of Innovation Scholar Fellowship, an Academic Senate Grant and a McElroy Fellowship from UC San Diego; a Sea and Sage Audubon Society Bloom-Hays Ecological Research Grant; and a California Native Plants Society Educational Grant.

http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/worldwide_importance_of_honey_bees_for_natural_habitats_captured_in_new_rep

Bee Research May Redefine Understanding Of Intelligence

The Japan Times     By Rowan Hooper    November 28, 2017

Honeybees have the ability to tell other bees in the hive where flowers bearing nectar and pollen are located. | ISTOCKThe brain of a honeybee is tiny — the size of a pin head — and contains less than a million neurons, compared to the 85 billion in our own brains. Yet with that sliver of brain, bees can do some extraordinary things. They can count and interpret abstract patterns. Most famously, bees have the ability to communicate the location of flowers to other bees in the hive.

When a foraging bee has found a source of nectar and pollen, it can let others in the hive know by performing a peculiar figure-of-eight dance called the waggle dance. The information contained in the waggle dance was first decoded by Austrian biologist Karl von Frisch, who picked up a Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1973. The dance in itself is not as complex as true language, but it’s remarkable in that it’s a symbolic form of communication.

Recently, Hiroyuki Ai at Fukuoka University has made another breakthrough in our understanding of this extraordinary behavior, by investigating the neurons that allow bees to process the dance information. Bees get information from hearing the dance, as well as seeing it. During the dance, bees vibrate their abdomens as they run in a figure-of-eight pattern. These vibrations send out pulses that are picked up by an organ on the antennae called Johnston’s organ. Johnston’s organs are equivalent to our ears.

Ai maintains hives of honeybees on the campus of Fukuoka University. (Incidentally, he says they have monthly meetings to discuss their research with students, after which they have tea parties and eat the honey produced by their bees.) Until recently, there has been very little understanding of how the bee brain deciphers the information encoded in the waggle dance. The reason, he says, is that bees only perform the dance in the hive, and it’s difficult to get them to do it in the laboratory.

It makes sense that the bees pay attention to sound. “In a dark hive, they can’t see the dance,” Ai says. “Honeybees hear the dance.” Honeybees are very sensitive to vibration, so mimicking the noise of a waggle dance can cause bees to journey to the same place indicated by a real dance.

Ai and his team recorded the vibrations made by the waggle dance, simulated the noises and applied the vibrations to the antennae of bees in the lab. This allowed them to track which neurons fired in response to the waggle dance, and follow their route in the insect brain.

The team discovered three different types of “interneurons.” These are connecting neurons that allow communication between different parts of the brain. Ai, along with team members that include Thomas Wachtler at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, and Hidetoshi Ikeno of the University of Hyogo in Himeji, traced the path of interneurons in the part of the brain concerned with processing sound. They found that the way the interneurons turn on and off is key to encoding information contained in the waggle dance about distance.

This mechanism of turning on and off — in neuroscience it is called “disinhibition” — is similar to one used in other insects. For example, it’s how crickets listen to the songs of other crickets as well as how moths assess the distance from the source of a smell their antennae have picked up. Ai and his team suggest there is a common neural basis in the way these different species do things.

Communication is the key to forming complex societies. It’s what allows the honeybee to perform such extraordinary behaviors. And, naturally, language is a key factor in human success. Intelligence is required for both these things, so does this mean honeybees, with a minuscule brain, are intelligent? It’s a tricky quality to define. One attempt, from the American Psychological Association Task Force on Intelligence, defines it as the ability “to adapt efficiently to the environment and to learn from experience.” Bees are able to do this.

There are six different kinds of dance, for example, and bees are able to learn and change their behavior accordingly. If bees encounter a dead bee at a flower, they change the pattern of dancing they perform back at the hive, suggesting they can perform a risk/benefit analysis.

Both bee and human language are a consequence of intelligence, and research such as Ai’s forces us to rethink what we mean by intelligence. “There might be a common brain mechanism between humans and honeybees,” he says.

What it certainly shows is that you don’t need a big brain to be smart. As with many things, Charles Darwin realized this, writing in 1871: “The brain of an ant is one of the most marvellous atoms of matter in the world, perhaps more so than the brain of man.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/11/28/national/science-health/bee-research-may-redefine-understanding-intelligence/#.WiydclWnHIU