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Concept: Bee


Climate change will cause geographic range shifts for pollinators and major crops, with global implications for food security and rural livelihoods. However, little is known about the potential for coupled impacts of climate change on pollinators and crops. Coffee production exemplifies this issue, because large losses in areas suitable for coffee production have been projected due to climate change and because coffee production is dependent on bee pollination. We modeled the potential distributions of coffee and coffee pollinators under current and future climates in Latin America to understand whether future coffee-suitable areas will also be suitable for pollinators. Our results suggest that coffee-suitable areas will be reduced 73-88% by 2050 across warming scenarios, a decline 46-76% greater than estimated by global assessments. Mean bee richness will decline 8-18% within future coffee-suitable areas, but all are predicted to contain at least 5 bee species, and 46-59% of future coffee-suitable areas will contain 10 or more species. In our models, coffee suitability and bee richness each increase (i.e., positive coupling) in 10-22% of future coffee-suitable areas. Diminished coffee suitability and bee richness (i.e., negative coupling), however, occur in 34-51% of other areas. Finally, in 31-33% of the future coffee distribution areas, bee richness decreases and coffee suitability increases. Assessing coupled effects of climate change on crop suitability and pollination can help target appropriate management practices, including forest conservation, shade adjustment, crop rotation, or status quo, in different regions.

Concepts: Agriculture, Climate, Climate change, Pollination, Bee, Crops


The causes of bee declines remain hotly debated, particularly the contribution of neonicotinoid insecticides. In 2013 the UK’s Food & Environment Research Agency made public a study of the impacts of exposure of bumblebee colonies to neonicotinoids. The study concluded that there was no clear relationship between colony performance and pesticide exposure, and the study was subsequently cited by the UK government in a policy paper in support of their vote against a proposed moratorium on some uses of neonicotinoids. Here I present a simple re-analysis of this data set. It demonstrates that these data in fact do show a negative relationship between both colony growth and queen production and the levels of neonicotinoids in the food stores collected by the bees. Indeed, this is the first study describing substantial negative impacts of neonicotinoids on colony performance of any bee species with free-flying bees in a field realistic situation where pesticide exposure is provided only as part of normal farming practices. It strongly suggests that wild bumblebee colonies in farmland can be expected to be adversely affected by exposure to neonicotinoids.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid


Wild bees are highly valuable pollinators. Along with managed honey bees, they provide a critical ecosystem service by ensuring stable pollination to agriculture and wild plant communities. Increasing concern about the welfare of both wild and managed pollinators, however, has prompted recent calls for national evaluation and action. Here, for the first time to our knowledge, we assess the status and trends of wild bees and their potential impacts on pollination services across the coterminous United States. We use a spatial habitat model, national land-cover data, and carefully quantified expert knowledge to estimate wild bee abundance and associated uncertainty. Between 2008 and 2013, modeled bee abundance declined across 23% of US land area. This decline was generally associated with conversion of natural habitats to row crops. We identify 139 counties where low bee abundances correspond to large areas of pollinator-dependent crops. These areas of mismatch between supply (wild bee abundance) and demand (cultivated area) for pollination comprise 39% of the pollinator-dependent crop area in the United States. Further, we find that the crops most highly dependent on pollinators tend to experience more severe mismatches between declining supply and increasing demand. These trends, should they continue, may increase costs for US farmers and may even destabilize crop production over time. National assessments such as this can help focus both scientific and political efforts to understand and sustain wild bees. As new information becomes available, repeated assessments can update findings, revise priorities, and track progress toward sustainable management of our nation’s pollinators.

Concepts: Agriculture, Insect, United States, Beekeeping, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) use information from surrounding electric fields to make foraging decisions. Electroreception in air, a nonconductive medium, is a recently discovered sensory capacity of insects, yet the sensory mechanisms remain elusive. Here, we investigate two putative electric field sensors: antennae and mechanosensory hairs. Examining their mechanical and neural response, we show that electric fields cause deflections in both antennae and hairs. Hairs respond with a greater median velocity, displacement, and angular displacement than antennae. Extracellular recordings from the antennae do not show any electrophysiological correlates to these mechanical deflections. In contrast, hair deflections in response to an electric field elicited neural activity. Mechanical deflections of both hairs and antennae increase with the electric charge carried by the bumblebee. From this evidence, we conclude that sensory hairs are a site of electroreception in the bumblebee.

Concepts: Electromagnetism, Electric charge, Electromagnetic field, Honey bee, Bee, Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees


Recently, the widespread distribution of pesticides detected in the hive has raised serious concerns about pesticide exposure on honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) health. A larval rearing method was adapted to assess the chronic oral toxicity to honey bee larvae of the four most common pesticides detected in pollen and wax - fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil, and chloropyrifos - tested alone and in all combinations. All pesticides at hive-residue levels triggered a significant increase in larval mortality compared to untreated larvae by over two fold, with a strong increase after 3 days of exposure. Among these four pesticides, honey bee larvae were most sensitive to chlorothalonil compared to adults. Synergistic toxicity was observed in the binary mixture of chlorothalonil with fluvalinate at the concentrations of 34 mg/L and 3 mg/L, respectively; whereas, when diluted by 10 fold, the interaction switched to antagonism. Chlorothalonil at 34 mg/L was also found to synergize the miticide coumaphos at 8 mg/L. The addition of coumaphos significantly reduced the toxicity of the fluvalinate and chlorothalonil mixture, the only significant non-additive effect in all tested ternary mixtures. We also tested the common ‘inert’ ingredient N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone at seven concentrations, and documented its high toxicity to larval bees. We have shown that chronic dietary exposure to a fungicide, pesticide mixtures, and a formulation solvent have the potential to impact honey bee populations, and warrants further investigation. We suggest that pesticide mixtures in pollen be evaluated by adding their toxicities together, until complete data on interactions can be accumulated.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Pesticide, Bee, Apidae, Neurotoxicity, Stingless bee


Central place foragers, such as pollinating bees, typically develop circuits (traplines) to visit multiple foraging sites in a manner that minimizes overall travel distance. Despite being taxonomically widespread, these routing behaviours remain poorly understood due to the difficulty of tracking the foraging history of animals in the wild. Here we examine how bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) develop and optimise traplines over large spatial scales by setting up an array of five artificial flowers arranged in a regular pentagon (50 m side length) and fitted with motion-sensitive video cameras to determine the sequence of visitation. Stable traplines that linked together all the flowers in an optimal sequence were typically established after a bee made 26 foraging bouts, during which time only about 20 of the 120 possible routes were tried. Radar tracking of selected flights revealed a dramatic decrease by 80% (ca. 1500 m) of the total travel distance between the first and the last foraging bout. When a flower was removed and replaced by a more distant one, bees engaged in localised search flights, a strategy that can facilitate the discovery of a new flower and its integration into a novel optimal trapline. Based on these observations, we developed and tested an iterative improvement heuristic to capture how bees could learn and refine their routes each time a shorter route is found. Our findings suggest that complex dynamic routing problems can be solved by small-brained animals using simple learning heuristics, without the need for a cognitive map.

Concepts: Honey bee, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


The folded intersegmental membrane is a structure that interconnects two adjacent abdominal segments; this structure is distributed in the segments of the honey bee abdomen. The morphology of the folded intersegmental membrane has already been documented. However, the ultrastructure of the intersegmental membrane and its assistive role in the telescopic movements of the honey bee abdomen are poorly understood. To explore the morphology and ultrastructure of the folded intersegmental membrane in the honey bee abdomen, frozen sections were analyzed under a scanning electron microscope. The intersegmental membrane between two adjacent terga has a Z-S configuration that greatly influences the daily physical activities of the honey bee abdomen. The dorsal intersegmental membrane is 2 times thicker than the ventral one, leading to asymmetric abdominal motion. Honey bee abdominal movements were recorded using a high-speed camera and through phase-contrast computed tomography. These movements conformed to the structural features of the folded intersegmental membrane.

Concepts: Electron, Insect, Arthropod, Honey bee, Abdomen, Scanning electron microscope, Bee, Apidae


Formicidae) is increasingly well-understood due to recent phylogenetic analyses, along with estimates of divergence times and diversification rates. Yet, leading hypotheses regarding the ancestral habitat of ants conflict with new findings that early ant lineages are cryptic and subterranean. Where the ants evolved, in respect to habitat, and how habitat shifts took place over time have not been formally tested. Here, we reconstruct the habitat transitions of crown-group ants through time, focusing on where they nest and forage (in the canopy, litter, or soil). Based on ancestral character reconstructions, we show that in contrast to the current consensus based on verbal arguments that ants evolved in tropical leaf litter, the soil is supported as the ancestral stratum of all ants. We also find subsequent movements up into the litter and, in some cases, into the canopy. Given the global importance of ants, because of their diversity, ecological influence and status as the most successful eusocial lineage on Earth, understanding the early evolution of this lineage provides insight into the factors that made this group so successful today.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Ecology, Soil, Bee, Ant, Fossil, E. O. Wilson


Exclusion from a social group is an effective way to avoid parasite transmission. This type of social removal has also been proposed as a form of collective defense, or social immunity, in eusocial insect groups. If parasitic modification of host behavior is widespread in social insects, the underlying physiological and neuronal mechanisms remain to be investigated. We studied this phenomenon in honey bees parasitized by the mite Varroa destructor or microsporidia Nosema ceranae, which make bees leave the hive precociously. We characterized the chemical, behavioral and neurogenomic changes in parasitized bees, and compared the effects of both parasites.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bee, Bumblebee, Ant, Apidae, Hymenoptera


INTRODUCTION: Primitively eusocial halictid bees are excellent systems to study the origin of eusociality, because all individuals have retained the ancestral ability to breed independently. In the sweat bee Halictus scabiosae, foundresses overwinter, establish nests and rear a first brood by mass-provisioning each offspring with pollen and nectar. The mothers may thus manipulate the phenotype of their offspring by restricting their food provisions. The first brood females generally help their mother to rear a second brood of males and gynes that become foundresses. However, the first brood females may also reproduce in their maternal or in other nests, or possibly enter early diapause. Here, we examined if the behavioural specialization of the first and second brood females was associated with between-brood differences in body size, energetic reserves and pollen provisions. RESULTS: The patterns of variation in adult body size, weight, fat content and food provisioned to the first and second brood indicate that H. scabiosae has dimorphic females. The first-brood females were significantly smaller, lighter and had lower fat reserves than the second-brood females and foundresses. The first-brood females were also less variable in size and fat content, and developed on homogeneously smaller pollen provisions. Foundresses were larger than gynes of the previous year, suggesting that small females were less likely to survive the winter. CONCLUSIONS: The marked size dimorphism between females produced in the first and second brood and the consistently smaller pollen provisions provided to the first brood suggest that the first brood females are channelled into a helper role during their pre-imaginal development. As a large body size is needed for successful hibernation, the mother may promote helping in her first brood offspring by restricting their food provisions. This pattern supports the hypothesis that parental manipulation may contribute to promote worker behaviour in primitively eusocial halictids.

Concepts: Insect, Mother, Honey, Bee, Ant, Eusociality, Halictidae, Gyne