Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Pollinators


Wild and managed bees are well documented as effective pollinators of global crops of economic importance. However, the contributions by pollinators other than bees have been little explored despite their potential to contribute to crop production and stability in the face of environmental change. Non-bee pollinators include flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, ants, birds, and bats, among others. Here we focus on non-bee insects and synthesize 39 field studies from five continents that directly measured the crop pollination services provided by non-bees, honey bees, and other bees to compare the relative contributions of these taxa. Non-bees performed 25-50% of the total number of flower visits. Although non-bees were less effective pollinators than bees per flower visit, they made more visits; thus these two factors compensated for each other, resulting in pollination services rendered by non-bees that were similar to those provided by bees. In the subset of studies that measured fruit set, fruit set increased with non-bee insect visits independently of bee visitation rates, indicating that non-bee insects provide a unique benefit that is not provided by bees. We also show that non-bee insects are not as reliant as bees on the presence of remnant natural or seminatural habitat in the surrounding landscape. These results strongly suggest that non-bee insect pollinators play a significant role in global crop production and respond differently than bees to landscape structure, probably making their crop pollination services more robust to changes in land use. Non-bee insects provide a valuable service and provide potential insurance against bee population declines.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Pollination, Flower, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Pollinators


This study investigated the chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of propolis collected from two stingless bee species Tetragonula laeviceps and Tetrigona melanoleuca (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Six xanthones, one triterpene and one lignane were isolated from Tetragonula laeviceps propolis. Triterpenes were the main constituents in T. melanoleuca propolis. The ethanol extract and isolated compounds from T. laeviceps propolis showed a higher antibacterial activity than those of T. melanoleuca propolis as the constituent α-mangostin exhibited the strongest activity. Xanthones were found in propolis for the first time; Garcinia mangostana (Mangosteen) was the most probable plant source. In addition, this is the first report on the chemical composition and bioactivity of propolis from T. melanoleuca.

Concepts: Honey bee, Bee, Apidae, Pollinators, Apocrita, Garcinia, Purple Mangosteen, Button Mangosteen


Evidence of inter-species pathogen transmission from managed to wild bees has sparked concern that emerging diseases could be causing or exacerbating wild bee declines. While some pathogens, like RNA viruses, have been found in pollen and wild bees, the threat these viruses pose to wild bees is largely unknown. Here, we tested 169 bees, representing 4 families and 8 genera, for five common honey bee (Apis mellifera) viruses, finding that more than 80% of wild bees harbored at least one virus. We also quantified virus titers in these bees, providing, for the first time, an assessment of viral load in a broad spectrum of wild bees. Although virus detection was very common, virus levels in the wild bees were minimal-similar to or lower than foraging honey bees and substantially lower than honey bees collected from hives. Furthermore, when we experimentally inoculated adults of two different bee species (Megachile rotundata and Colletes inaequalis) with a mixture of common viruses that is lethal to honey bees, we saw no effect on short term survival. Overall, we found that honey bee RNA viruses can be commonly detected at low levels in many wild bee species, but we found no evidence that these pathogens cause elevated short-term mortality effects. However, more work on these viruses is greatly needed to assess effects on additional bee species and life stages.

Concepts: Microbiology, Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinators, Bees


Insect pollinators such as bumblebees play a vital role in many ecosystems, so it is important to understand their foraging movements on a landscape scale. We used harmonic radar to record the natural foraging behaviour of Bombus terrestris audax workers over their entire foraging career. Every flight ever made outside the nest by four foragers was recorded. Our data reveal where the bees flew and how their behaviour changed with experience, at an unprecedented level of detail. We identified how each bee’s flights fit into two categories-which we named exploration and exploitation flights-examining the differences between the two types of flight and how their occurrence changed over the course of the bees' foraging careers. Exploitation of learned resources takes place during efficient, straight trips, usually to a single foraging location, and is seldom combined with exploration of other areas. Exploration of the landscape typically occurs in the first few flights made by each bee, but our data show that further exploration flights can be made throughout the bee’s foraging career. Bees showed striking levels of variation in how they explored their environment, their fidelity to particular patches, ratio of exploration to exploitation, duration and frequency of their foraging bouts. One bee developed a straight route to a forage patch within four flights and followed this route exclusively for six days before abandoning it entirely for a closer location; this second location had not been visited since her first exploratory flight nine days prior. Another bee made only rare exploitation flights and continued to explore widely throughout its life; two other bees showed more frequent switches between exploration and exploitation. Our data shed light on the way bumblebees balance exploration of the environment with exploitation of resources and reveal extreme levels of variation between individuals.

Concepts: Honey bee, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Apidae, Pollinators, Foraging


Neonicotinoid seed dressings have caused concern world-wide. We use large field experiments to assess the effects of neonicotinoid-treated crops on three bee species across three countries (Hungary, Germany, and the United Kingdom). Winter-sown oilseed rape was grown commercially with either seed coatings containing neonicotinoids (clothianidin or thiamethoxam) or no seed treatment (control). For honey bees, we found both negative (Hungary and United Kingdom) and positive (Germany) effects during crop flowering. In Hungary, negative effects on honey bees (associated with clothianidin) persisted over winter and resulted in smaller colonies in the following spring (24% declines). In wild bees (Bombus terrestris and Osmia bicornis), reproduction was negatively correlated with neonicotinoid residues. These findings point to neonicotinoids causing a reduced capacity of bee species to establish new populations in the year following exposure.

Concepts: United Kingdom, Honey bee, Flower, Bee, Bumblebee, Apidae, Pollinators, Bees


The impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on insect pollinators is highly controversial. Sublethal concentrations alter the behaviour of social bees and reduce survival of entire colonies. However, critics argue that the reported negative effects only arise from neonicotinoid concentrations that are greater than those found in the nectar and pollen of pesticide-treated plants. Furthermore, it has been suggested that bees could choose to forage on other available flowers and hence avoid or dilute exposure. Here, using a two-choice feeding assay, we show that the honeybee, Apis mellifera, and the buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, do not avoid nectar-relevant concentrations of three of the most commonly used neonicotinoids, imidacloprid (IMD), thiamethoxam (TMX), and clothianidin (CLO), in food. Moreover, bees of both species prefer to eat more of sucrose solutions laced with IMD or TMX than sucrose alone. Stimulation with IMD, TMX and CLO neither elicited spiking responses from gustatory neurons in the bees' mouthparts, nor inhibited the responses of sucrose-sensitive neurons. Our data indicate that bees cannot taste neonicotinoids and are not repelled by them. Instead, bees preferred solutions containing IMD or TMX, even though the consumption of these pesticides caused them to eat less food overall. This work shows that bees cannot control their exposure to neonicotinoids in food and implies that treating flowering crops with IMD and TMX presents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees.

Concepts: Food, Honey bee, Flower, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Insecticide, Pollinators


Managed bees are critical for crop pollination worldwide. As the demand for pollinator-dependent crops increases, so does the use of managed bees. Concern has arisen that managed bees may have unintended negative impacts on native wild bees, which are important pollinators in both agricultural and natural ecosystems. The goal of this study was to synthesize the literature documenting the effects of managed honey bees and bumble bees on wild bees in three areas: (1) competition for floral and nesting resources, (2) indirect effects via changes in plant communities, including the spread of exotic plants and decline of native plants, and (3) transmission of pathogens. The majority of reviewed studies reported negative effects of managed bees, but trends differed across topical areas. Of studies examining competition, results were highly variable with 53% reporting negative effects on wild bees, while 28% reported no effects and 19% reported mixed effects (varying with the bee species or variables examined). Equal numbers of studies examining plant communities reported positive (36%) and negative (36%) effects, with the remainder reporting no or mixed effects. Finally, the majority of studies on pathogen transmission (70%) reported potential negative effects of managed bees on wild bees. However, most studies across all topical areas documented the potential for impact (e.g. reporting the occurrence of competition or pathogens), but did not measure direct effects on wild bee fitness, abundance, or diversity. Furthermore, we found that results varied depending on whether managed bees were in their native or non-native range; managed bees within their native range had lesser competitive effects, but potentially greater effects on wild bees via pathogen transmission. We conclude that while this field has expanded considerably in recent decades, additional research measuring direct, long-term, and population-level effects of managed bees is needed to understand their potential impact on wild bees.

Concepts: Insect, Pathogen, Honey bee, Pollination, Plants, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinators


Despite widespread interest in the potential adaptive value of individual differences in cognition, few studies have attempted to address the question of how variation in learning and memory impacts their performance in natural environments. Using a novel split-colony experimental design we evaluated visual learning performance of foraging naïve bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) in an ecologically relevant associative learning task under controlled laboratory conditions, before monitoring the lifetime foraging performance of the same individual bees in the field. We found appreciable variation among the 85 workers tested in both their learning and foraging performance, which was not predicted by colony membership. However, rather than finding that foragers benefited from enhanced learning performance, we found that fast and slow learners collected food at comparable rates and completed a similar number of foraging bouts per day in the field. Furthermore, bees with better learning abilities foraged for fewer days; suggesting a cost of enhanced learning performance in the wild. As a result, slower learning individuals collected more resources for their colony over the course of their foraging career. These results demonstrate that enhanced cognitive traits are not necessarily beneficial to the foraging performance of individuals or colonies in all environments.

Concepts: Psychology, Natural environment, Honey bee, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Apidae, Pollinators


Insects use several senses to forage, detecting floral cues such as color, shape, pattern, and volatiles. We report a formerly unappreciated sensory modality in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), detection of floral electric fields. These fields act as floral cues, which are affected by the visit of naturally charged bees. Like visual cues, floral electric fields exhibit variations in pattern and structure, which can be discriminated by bumblebees. We also show that such electric field information contributes to the complex array of floral cues that together improve a pollinator’s memory of floral rewards. Because floral electric fields can change within seconds, this sensory modality may facilitate rapid and dynamic communication between flowers and their pollinators.

Concepts: Sensory system, Pollination, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Pollinators


The worldwide use of neonicotinoid pesticides has caused concern on account of their involvement in the decline of bee populations, which are key pollinators in most ecosystems. Here we describe a role of non-neuronal acetylcholine (ACh) for breeding of Apis mellifera carnica and a so far unknown effect of neonicotinoids on non-target insects. Royal jelly or larval food are produced by the hypopharyngeal gland of nursing bees and contain unusually high ACh concentrations (4-8 mM). ACh is extremely well conserved in royal jelly or brood food because of the acidic pH of 4.0. This condition protects ACh from degradation thus ensuring delivery of intact ACh to larvae. Raising the pH to ≥5.5 and applying cholinesterase reduced the content of ACh substantially (by 75-90%) in larval food. When this manipulated brood was tested in artificial larval breeding experiments, the survival rate was higher with food supplemented by 100% with ACh (6 mM) than with food not supplemented with ACh. ACh release from the hypopharyngeal gland and its content in brood food declined by 80%, when honeybee colonies were exposed for 4 weeks to high concentrations of the neonicotinoids clothianidin (100 parts per billion [ppb]) or thiacloprid (8,800 ppb). Under these conditions the secretory cells of the gland were markedly damaged and brood development was severely compromised. Even field-relevant low concentrations of thiacloprid (200 ppb) or clothianidin (1 and 10 ppb) reduced ACh level in the brood food and showed initial adverse effects on brood development. Our findings indicate a hitherto unknown target of neonicotinoids to induce adverse effects on non-neuronal ACh which should be considered when re-assessing the environmental risks of these compounds. To our knowledge this is a new biological mechanism, and we suggest that, in addition to their well documented neurotoxic effects, neonicotinoids may contribute to honeybee colony losses consecutive to a reduction of the ACh content in the brood food.

Concepts: Insect, Concentration, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Acetylcholine, Bee, Pollinators, Parts-per notation