Bees give up searching for food when humans degrade their land

February 8, 2017
Bees give up searching for food when we degrade their land
Credit: University of Western Australia

A new study into honey bees has revealed the significant effect human impact has on a bee's metabolism, and ultimately its survival.

Researchers from The University of Western Australia in collaboration with Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Curtin University and CSIRO have completed a world-first study on insect metabolism in free flying insects, focusing on the honey bee. The study funded by an Australian Research Council linkage award has revealed the significant effect human impact on the environment had on , which are crucial for the planet, pollinating one-third of everything we eat.

Landscapes that have been degraded mean a reduction in the availability of resources which affects the metabolic rate of the and puts more strain on its body's ability to function.

Emeritus Professor Don Bradshaw from UWA's School of Biological Sciences said the researchers wanted to find out how honey bees' metabolism was impacted by human made changes to the environment such as clearing of land.

To do this they used a unique method to measure the energy expenditure of bees, originally developed by Professor Bradshaw and used in his research on honey possums. Through this method they were able to measure the metabolic rate of bees when they are in their natural environment, and compare pristine environments rich in resources to degraded environments.

"Before conducting the experiment we thought the bees would have a much higher metabolism in degraded areas because they would need to travel further in search of food," Professor Bradshaw said.

"Surprisingly we found the opposite. The metabolic rate of bees in natural woodland was actually significantly higher than in a degraded environment," Professor Bradshaw said.

"Rather than travel in search of food in degraded areas, the bees foraged less and depended on stored resources inside the hive."

"We were also able to measure their intake of nectar which showed that the bees in the degraded landscape were feeding less."   The research has important implications for understanding environmental impacts on bees which will help preserve bee populations in the future and may offer insight into the way other insects' metabolism works and how it affects their behaviour. This is the first time the and feeding rate of a free-flying insect has been measured in its natural environment and paves the way for future research on pollinators other than bees.

"Bees are vital for human beings, the and agriculture," Professor Bradshaw said.

"They pollinate one sixth of flowering plants world-wide and help to produce a third of what we eat, but unfortunately over the past few decades there has been a dramatic decline in global bee populations.

"Continual research in this area is vital in understanding their behaviour, how we as humans can impact their survival, and what we can do in the future to protect them."

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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

More information: Sean Tomlinson et al. Landscape context alters cost of living in honeybee metabolism and feeding, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2676

Related Stories

Concern over parasites affecting honey bees

November 15, 2016

Scientists from The University of Western Australia's Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBER) tagged 200 honey bee workers to find out how a highly-contagious fungal parasite (Nosema apis) impacts their ability to pollinate ...

Video: Empowering Maine's mightiest pollinators

August 24, 2016

For the last 30 years, Drummond, professor of insect ecology at the University of Maine, has studied the biology, ecology, disease susceptibility and pesticide exposure of Maine's 275 native species of bees, as well as the ...

Recommended for you

Male dolphins offer gifts to attract females

November 21, 2017

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have captured a rare sexual display: evidence of male humpback dolphins presenting females with large marine sponges in an apparent effort to mate.

Study identifies new malaria parasites in wild bonobos

November 21, 2017

Malaria parasites, although widespread among wild chimpanzees and gorillas, have not been detected in bonobos, a chimp cousin. Reasoning that previous studies may have missed infected bonobo populations, a team led by Beatrice ...

The strange case of the scuba-diving fly

November 20, 2017

More than a century ago, American writer Mark Twain observed a curious phenomenon at Mono Lake, just to the east of Yosemite National Park: enormous numbers of small flies would crawl underwater to forage and lay eggs, but ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FredJose
1 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2017
The Creator had thought of everything. Human beings can mostly only think of themselves in this fallen world. Too much struggling just to survive forces them to take short cuts to income. Mostly with bad outcomes for the environment and their fellow human beings.

Bees, birds and crawling insects are the most underrated of companions on earth. This is clearly seen now with the rapid disastrous decline in bee populations.

May the Lord grant us mercy to quickly find solutions to these and other problems.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.