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Concept: 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


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


Bees, hoverflies and butterflies are taxa frequently studied as pollinators in agricultural and conservation contexts. Although there are many records of non-syrphid Diptera visiting flowers, they are generally not regarded as important pollinators. We use data from 30 pollen-transport networks and 71 pollinator-visitation networks to compare the importance of various flower-visiting taxa as pollen-vectors. We specifically compare non-syrphid Diptera and Syrphidae to determine whether neglect of the former in the literature is justified. We found no significant difference in pollen-loads between the syrphid and non-syrphid Diptera. Moreover, there was no significant difference in the level of specialization between the two groups in the pollen-transport networks, though the Syrphidae had significantly greater visitation evenness. Flower visitation data from 33 farms showed that non-syrphid Diptera made up the majority of the flower-visiting Diptera in the agricultural studies (on average 82% abundance and 73% species richness), and we estimate that non-syrphid Diptera carry 84% of total pollen carried by farmland Diptera. As important pollinators, such as bees, have suffered serious declines, it would be prudent to improve our understanding of the role of non-syrphid Diptera as pollinators.

Concepts: Insect, Flower, Pollen, Bee, Flies, Pollinators, Hoverfly, Hoverflies


Since 1994, more than €41 billion has been spent in the European Union on agri-environment schemes (AESs), which aim to mitigate the effects of anthropomorphic landscape changes via financial incentives for land managers to encourage environmentally friendly practices [1-6]. Surprisingly, given the substantial price tag and mandatory EU member participation [2], there is either a lack of [1] or mixed [1, 2, 7] evidence-based support for the schemes. One novel source of data to evaluate AESs may be provided by an organism that itself may benefit from them. Honeybees (Apis mellifera), important pollinators for crops and wildflowers [8, 9], are declining in parts of the world from many factors, including loss of available forage from agricultural intensification [10-13]. We analyzed landscape-level honeybee foraging ecology patterns over two years by decoding 5,484 waggle dances from bees located in the center of a mixed, urban-rural 94 km(2) area, including lands under government-funded AESs. The waggle dance, a unique behavior performed by successful foragers, communicates to nestmates the most profitable foraging locations [14-16]. After correcting for distance, dances demonstrate that honeybees possess a significant preference for rural land managed under UK Higher Level AESs and a significant preference against rural land under UK Organic Entry Level AESs. Additionally, the two most visited areas contained a National and Local Nature Reserve, respectively. Our study demonstrates that honeybees, with their great foraging range and sensitive response to forage quality, can be used as bioindicators to monitor large areas and provide information relevant to better environmental management. VIDEO ABSTRACT:

Concepts: European Union, European honey bee, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Pollinators, Foraging, Waggle dance


The life-like fidelity of organisms captured in amber is unique among all kinds of fossilization and represents an invaluable source for different fields of palaeontological and biological research. One of the most challenging aspects in amber research is the study of traits related to behaviour. Here, indirect evidence for pheromone-mediated mating behaviour is recorded from a biting midge (Ceratopogonidae) in 54 million-year-old Indian amber. Camptopterohelea odora n. sp. exhibits a complex, pocket shaped structure on the wings, which resembles the wing folds of certain moth flies (Diptera: Psychodidae) and scent organs that are only known from butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) so far. Our studies suggests that pheromone releasing structures on the wings have evolved independently in biting midges and might be much more widespread in fossil as well as modern insects than known so far.

Concepts: Nematocera, Insect, Order, Lepidoptera, Flies, Pollinators, Moth, Butterfly


It has been suggested that the widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides threatens bees, but research on this topic has been surrounded by controversy. In order to synthesize which research approaches have been used to examine the effect of neonicotinoids on bees and to identify knowledge gaps, we systematically reviewed research on this subject that was available on the Web of Science and PubMed in June 2015. Most of the 216 primary research studies were conducted in Europe or North America (82%), involved the neonicotinoid imidacloprid (78%), and concerned the western honey bee Apis mellifera (75%). Thus, little seems to be known about neonicotinoids and bees in areas outside Europe and North America. Furthermore, because there is considerable variation in ecological traits among bee taxa, studies on honey bees are not likely to fully predict impacts of neonicotinoids on other species. Studies on crops were dominated by seed-treated maize, oilseed rape (canola) and sunflower, whereas less is known about potential side effects on bees from the use of other application methods on insect pollinated fruit and vegetable crops, or on lawns and ornamental plants. Laboratory approaches were most common, and we suggest that their capability to infer real-world consequences are improved when combined with information from field studies about realistic exposures to neonicotinoids. Studies using field approaches often examined only bee exposure to neonicotinoids and more field studies are needed that measure impacts of exposure. Most studies measured effects on individual bees. We suggest that effects on the individual bee should be linked to both mechanisms at the sub-individual level and also to the consequences for the colony and wider bee populations. As bees are increasingly facing multiple interacting pressures future research needs to clarify the role of neonicotinoids in relative to other drivers of bee declines.

Concepts: Insect, European honey bee, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Apidae, Pollinators, Bees


Flying-foxes (Pteropodidae) are large bats capable of long-distance flight. Many species are threatened; some are considered pests. Effective conservation and management of flying-foxes are constrained by lack of knowledge of their ecology, especially of movement patterns over large spatial scales. Using satellite telemetry, we quantified long-distance movements of the grey-headed flying-fox Pteropus poliocephalus among roost sites in eastern Australia. Fourteen adult males were tracked for 2-40 weeks (mean 25 weeks). Collectively, these individuals utilised 77 roost sites in an area spanning 1,075 km by 128 km. Movement patterns varied greatly between individuals, with some travelling long distances. Five individuals travelled cumulative distances >1,000 km over the study period. Five individuals showed net displacements >300 km during one month, including one movement of 500 km within 48 hours. Seasonal movements were consistent with facultative latitudinal migration in part of the population. Flying-foxes shifted roost sites frequently: 64% of roost visits lasted <5 consecutive days, although some individuals remained at one roost for several months. Modal 2-day distances between consecutive roosts were 21-50 km (mean 45 km, range 3-166 km). Of 13 individuals tracked for >12 weeks, 10 moved >100 km in one or more weeks. Median cumulative displacement distances over 1, 10 and 30 weeks were 0 km, 260 km and 821 km, respectively. On average, over increasing time-periods, one additional roost site was visited for each additional 100 km travelled. These findings explain why culling and relocation attempts have had limited success in resolving human-bat conflicts in Australia. Flying-foxes are highly mobile between camps and regularly travel long distances. Consequently, local control actions are likely to have only temporary effects on local flying-fox populations. Developing alternative methods to manage these conflicts remains an important challenge that should be informed by a better understanding of the species' movement patterns.

Concepts: Arithmetic mean, Travel, Pollinators, Megabats, Megabat, Pteropus, Grey-headed Flying Fox


Africanized honey bees entered California in 1994 but few accounts of their northward expansion or their frequency relative to European honey bees have been published. We used mitochondrial markers and morphometric analyses to determine the prevalence of Africanized honeybees in San Diego County and their current northward progress in California west of the Sierra Nevada crest. The northernmost African mitotypes detected were approximately 40 km south of Sacramento in California’s central valley. In San Diego County, 65% of foraging honey bee workers carry African mitochondria and the estimated percentage of Africanized workers using morphological measurements is similar (61%). There was no correlation between mitotype and morphology in San Diego County suggesting Africanized bees result from bidirectional hybridization. Seventy percent of feral hives, but only 13% of managed hives, sampled in San Diego County carried the African mitotype indicating that a large fraction of foraging workers in both urban and rural San Diego County are feral. We also found a single nucleotide polymorphism at the DNA barcode locus COI that distinguishes European and African mitotypes. The utility of this marker was confirmed using 401 georeferenced honey bee sequences from the worldwide Barcode of Life Database. Future censuses can determine whether the current range of the Africanized form is stable, patterns of introgression at nuclear loci, and the environmental factors that may limit the northern range of the Africanized honey bee.

Concepts: Insect, European honey bee, Honey bee, Beekeeping, California, Apidae, Pollinators, Swarming


Figs (Ficus) have a reciprocally obligate mutualism with tiny, short-lived (1-2 days) fig wasps (Agaonidae). The small size and short life of these pollinators is expected to make them more vulnerable to climate change than their larger and longer-lived hosts. We experimentally tested the thermal tolerances of four species of adult female fig wasp from equatorial Singapore. The results suggest that an increase of 3°C or more above the current temperatures experienced across much of the equatorial tropics would markedly decrease the active adult lifespan of all four species. Fig plants are the centre of an intricate web of specialist and generalist animals. Unless fig wasps can acclimate or adapt to warmer temperatures in time, these responses may disrupt the mutualism, potentially affecting multiple trophic levels.

Concepts: Plant, Ecology, Ficus, Wasp, Ant, Pollinators, Fig wasp, Global warming


There is currently a great deal of concern about population declines in pollinating insects. Many potential threats have been identified which may adversely affect the behaviour and health of both honey bees and bumble bees: these include pesticide exposure, and parasites and pathogens. Whether biological pest control agents adversely affect bees has been much less well studied: it is generally assumed that biological agents are safer for wildlife than chemical pesticides. The aim of this study was to test whether entomopathogenic nematodes sold as biological pest control products could potentially have adverse effects on the bumble bee Bombus terrestris. One product was a broad spectrum pest control agent containing both Heterorhabditis sp. and Steinernema sp., the other product was specifically for weevil control and contained only Steinernema kraussei. Both nematode products caused ≥80% mortality within the 96 h test period when bees were exposed to soil containing entomopathogenic nematodes at the recommended field concentration of 50 nematodes per cm(2) soil. Of particular concern is the fact that nematodes from the broad spectrum product could proliferate in the carcasses of dead bees, and therefore potentially infect a whole bee colony or spread to the wider environment.

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