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Concept: Honey


Most commercially available therapeutic honey is derived from flowering Leptospermum scoparium (manuka) plants from New Zealand. Australia has more than 80 Leptospermum species, and limited research to date has found at least some produce honey with high non-peroxide antibacterial activity (NPA) similar to New Zealand manuka, suggesting Australia may have a ready supply of medical-grade honey. The activity of manuka honey is largely due to the presence of methylglyoxal (MGO), which is produced non-enzymatically from dihydroxyacetone (DHA) present in manuka nectar. The aims of the current study were to chemically quantify the compounds contributing to antibacterial activity in a collection of Australian Leptospermum honeys, to assess the relationship between MGO and NPA in these samples, and to determine whether NPA changes during honey storage. Eighty different Leptospermum honey samples were analysed, and therapeutically useful NPA was seen in samples derived from species including L. liversidgei and L. polygalifolium. Exceptionally high levels of up to 1100 mg/kg MGO were present in L. polygalifolium honey samples sourced from the Northern Rivers region in NSW and Byfield, QLD, with considerable diversity among samples. There was a strong positive relationship between NPA and MGO concentration, and DHA was present in all of the active honey samples, indicating a potential for ongoing conversion to MGO. NPA was stable, with most samples showing little change following seven years of storage in the dark at 4°C. This study demonstrates the potential for Australian Leptospermum honey as a wound care product, and argues for an extension of this analysis to other Leptospermum species.

Concepts: New Zealand, Australia, Flower, Honey, New South Wales, Leptospermum scoparium, Monofloral honey, Leptospermum


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


The major environmental determinants of honeybee caste development come from larval nutrients: royal jelly stimulates the differentiation of larvae into queens, whereas beebread leads to worker bee fate. However, these determinants are not fully characterized. Here we report that plant RNAs, particularly miRNAs, which are more enriched in beebread than in royal jelly, delay development and decrease body and ovary size in honeybees, thereby preventing larval differentiation into queens and inducing development into worker bees. Mechanistic studies reveal that amTOR, a stimulatory gene in caste differentiation, is the direct target of miR162a. Interestingly, the same effect also exists in non-social Drosophila. When such plant RNAs and miRNAs are fed to Drosophila larvae, they cause extended developmental times and reductions in body weight and length, ovary size and fecundity. This study identifies an uncharacterized function of plant miRNAs that fine-tunes honeybee caste development, offering hints for understanding cross-kingdom interaction and co-evolution.

Concepts: Insect, Developmental biology, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Honey


Flower pollen is collected by honeybee foragers, adhered on their rear legs and transported into the hives in the form of pellets. Once in the hives, bee pollen is moisturised with nectar and bee mouth secretions and due to enzymatically modifications it becomes the so-called bee-bread, the protein reservoir of young bees. Bee pollen can be artificially removed from bee legs and collected by using specific systems, the bee pollen traps. Bee pollen is commercialized for human consumption as fresh product and after freezing or drying. Although bee pollen is nowadays largely consumed in developed countries, as food or food supplement according to local legislation, little is known on its safety related to microbiological hazards. In this work, we aimed to characterize for the first time the microbiological profile of Italian bee pollen in fresh, frozen and dried form collected along an entire harvesting season. Moreover, monthly microbiological analyses were performed on frozen (storage at -18°C) and dried (storage at room temperature) bee pollen over a 4 months period. Further aim of this work was the evaluation of the possible impact on production level of three different traps used for pollen collection. Our results on microbial contamination of fresh and frozen bee pollen show that a more comprehensive microbiological risk assessment of bee pollen is required. On the other side, dried pollen showed very low microbial contamination and no pathogen survived after the drying process and during storage.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Drying, Flower, Honey, Apidae


Honey bees are increasingly important in the pollination of crops and wild plants. Recent reports of the weakening and periodical high losses of managed honey bee colonies have alarmed beekeeper, farmers and scientists. Infestations with the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor in combination with its associated viruses have been identified as a crucial driver of these health problems. Although yearly treatments are required to prevent collapses of honey bee colonies, the number of effective acaricides is small and no new active compounds have been registered in the past 25 years. RNAi-based methods were proposed recently as a promising new tool. However, the application of these methods according to published protocols has led to a surprising discovery. Here, we show that the lithium chloride that was used to precipitate RNA and other lithium compounds is highly effective at killing Varroa mites when fed to host bees at low millimolar concentrations. Experiments with caged bees and brood-free artificial swarms consisting of a queen and several thousand bees clearly demonstrate the potential of lithium as miticidal agent with good tolerability in worker bees providing a promising basis for the development of an effective and easy-to-apply control method for mite treatment.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Honey, Bumblebee, Mite, Queen bee, Varroa destructor


Many factors can negatively affect honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) health including the pervasive use of systemic neonicotinoid insecticides. Through direct consumption of contaminated nectar and pollen from treated plants, neonicotinoids can affect foraging, learning, and memory in worker bees. Less well studied are the potential effects of neonicotinoids on queen bees, which may be exposed indirectly through trophallaxis, or food-sharing. To assess effects on queen productivity, small colonies of different sizes (1500, 3000, and 7000 bees) were fed imidacloprid (0, 10, 20, 50, and 100 ppb) in syrup for three weeks. We found adverse effects of imidacloprid on queens (egg-laying and locomotor activity), worker bees (foraging and hygienic activities), and colony development (brood production and pollen stores) in all treated colonies. Some effects were less evident as colony size increased, suggesting that larger colony populations may act as a buffer to pesticide exposure. This study is the first to show adverse effects of imidacloprid on queen bee fecundity and behavior and improves our understanding of how neonicotinoids may impair short-term colony functioning. These data indicate that risk-mitigation efforts should focus on reducing neonicotinoid exposure in the early spring when colonies are smallest and queens are most vulnerable to exposure.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Honey, Queen bee, Beekeeper, Worker bee, Swarming


Experiments linking neonicotinoids and declining bee health have been criticized for not simulating realistic exposure. Here we quantified the duration and magnitude of neonicotinoid exposure in Canada’s corn-growing regions and used these data to design realistic experiments to investigate the effect of such insecticides on honey bees. Colonies near corn were naturally exposed to neonicotinoids for up to 4 months-the majority of the honey bee’s active season. Realistic experiments showed that neonicotinoids increased worker mortality and were associated with declines in social immunity and increased queenlessness over time. We also discovered that the acute toxicity of neonicotinoids to honey bees doubles in the presence of a commonly encountered fungicide. Our work demonstrates that field-realistic exposure to neonicotinoids can reduce honey bee health in corn-growing regions.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Honey, Bumblebee, Apidae, Apiology, Bees and toxic chemicals


Pollinators, such as bees, often develop multi-location routes (traplines) to exploit subsets of flower patches within larger plant populations. How individuals establish such foraging areas in the presence of other foragers is poorly explored. Here we investigated the foraging patterns of pairs of bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) released sequentially into an 880m2 outdoor flight cage containing 10 feeding stations (artificial flowers). Using motion-sensitive video cameras mounted on flowers, we mapped the flower visitation networks of both foragers, quantified their interactions and compared their foraging success over an entire day. Overall, bees that were released first (residents) travelled 37% faster and collected 77% more nectar, thereby reaching a net energy intake rate 64% higher than bees released second (newcomers). However, this prior-experience advantage decreased as newcomers became familiar with the spatial configuration of the flower array. When both bees visited the same flower simultaneously, the most frequent outcome was for the resident to evict the newcomer. On the rare occasions when newcomers evicted residents, the two bees increased their frequency of return visits to that flower. These competitive interactions led to a significant (if only partial) spatial overlap between the foraging patterns of pairs of bees. While newcomers may initially use social cues (such as olfactory footprints) to exploit flowers used by residents, either because such cues indicate higher rewards and/or safety from predation, residents may attempt to preserve their monopoly over familiar resources through exploitation and interference. We discuss how these interactions may favour spatial partitioning, thereby maximising the foraging efficiency of individuals and colonies.

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


Understanding which flowers honey bees (Apis mellifera) use for forage can help us to provide suitable plants for healthy honey bee colonies. Accordingly, honey DNA metabarcoding provides a valuable tool for investigating pollen and nectar collection. We investigated early season (April and May) floral choice by honey bees provided with a very high diversity of flowering plants within the National Botanic Garden of Wales. There was a close correspondence between the phenology of flowering and the detection of plants within the honey. Within the study area there were 437 genera of plants in flower during April and May, but only 11% of these were used. Thirty-nine plant taxa were recorded from three hives but only ten at greater than 1%. All three colonies used the same core set of native or near-native plants, typically found in hedgerows and woodlands. The major plants were supplemented with a range of horticultural species, with more variation in plant choice between the honey bee colonies. We conclude that during the spring, honey bees need access to native hedgerows and woodlands to provide major plants for foraging. Gardens provide supplementary flowers that may increase the nutritional diversity of the honey bee diet.

Concepts: Species, Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Flowering plant, Flower, Honey, Bee


As a managed pollinator, the honey bee Apis mellifera is critical to the American agricultural enterprise. Recent colony losses have thus raised concerns; possible explanations for bee decline include nutritional deficiencies and exposures to pesticides and pathogens. We determined that constituents found in honey, including p-coumaric acid, pinocembrin, and pinobanksin 5-methyl ether, specifically induce detoxification genes. These inducers are primarily found not in nectar but in pollen in the case of p-coumaric acid (a monomer of sporopollenin, the principal constituent of pollen cell walls) and propolis, a resinous material gathered and processed by bees to line wax cells. RNA-seq analysis (massively parallel RNA sequencing) revealed that p-coumaric acid specifically up-regulates all classes of detoxification genes as well as select antimicrobial peptide genes. This up-regulation has functional significance in that that adding p-coumaric acid to a diet of sucrose increases midgut metabolism of coumaphos, a widely used in-hive acaricide, by ∼60%. As a major component of pollen grains, p-coumaric acid is ubiquitous in the natural diet of honey bees and may function as a nutraceutical regulating immune and detoxification processes. The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses.

Concepts: Bacteria, Insect, European honey bee, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Honey, Bumblebee, Apidae