Can bees meet their nutritional needs in the current UK landscape?

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Department Name: Natural Capital and Plant Health

Abstract

An important but often overlooked reason that bee populations are in decline is likely to be that these important pollinators can no longer obtain adequate nutrition as a result of changes in land management practices worldwide. This proposal will investigate how honeybees and bumblebees meet their nutritional needs and will also examine the nutritional value of pollen and nectar of selected UK plant species with the aim of predicting when bee pollinators in the UK experience nutritional short-falls. Insects, and in particular bee species, are responsible for the sexual reproduction of a highly diverse range of plants, many of which are agricultural crops. Over 39 crops in the UK alone depend upon insect pollinators for fruit and seed production. In natural habitats, a colony of 'generalist' bees such as honeybees will visit the flowers of potentially hundreds of different plant species to find food. In the past 50 years, our landscape has changed to accommodate modern farming practices that cultivate large fields of single crop species. Nutritional balance becomes extremely important in monoculture situations: honeybee colonies used for pollination services have little or no choice of food and limited access to natural vegetation.. Ironically, while crops like oilseed rape may provide vast expanses of pollen and nectar when they are in flower, we do not know if these floral resources provide adequate nutrition for bees. In fact, species like honeybees may be obliged to forage for pollen and nectar from a variety of plants to obtain adequate nutrition, but this has never been established. Using a sophisticated modelling approach that has been developed to study nutrition in many other animals, we will experimentally determine the ratio of protein and carbohydrates that adult workers and larval bees need to perform at their best. We will also examine how changes in environmental conditions, infection with pathogens, exposure to pesticides, or consumption of toxins affect a bee's nutritional needs. Honeybees and bumblebees learn to associate floral traits with food and so can exploit flowers that are currently in bloom. By placing bees under circumstances where they are forced to eat unbalanced foods, we will test whether malnourishment causes bees to learn to select foods that complete their diet. Honeybees are social insects that communicate information about floral resources to other workers within the hive via the 'dance language' in order to rapidly exploit available food sources. We will also examine whether nutritional imbalance causes bees to dance more vigorously for nutritionally complete foods. An important component of our proposed research will use a series of biochemical analyses to determine the nutritional value of pollen and nectar of important bee-pollinated plants. We will focus our investigation on important UK crops (e.g. oilseed rape, apples, peas), plants found in natural UK landscapes including invasive species (e.g. clover, heather, Himalayan balsalm), and plants found in urban gardens (e.g. mint, rhododendrons, cucumbers). Combining this information with a careful analysis of the existing scientific literature, we will construct an online database of the nutritional value of pollen and nectar of flowering plants in order to share this information with the general public. When combined with the experiments that determine optimal bee nutrition, we anticipate that the research described in our proposal will aid beekeepers, farmers, land managers, and scientists in thwarting bee decline worldwide, by providing a sound scientific basis for designing strategies to ensure that bees have access to sufficient nutrients.

Technical Summary

During the last 50 years, plant diversity in the UK has been reduced in some areas by as much as 75%. An important but often overlooked factor that could be playing a leading role in bee population declines is the fact that bees may not have access to sufficient nutrition from existing floral resources. Nutrition is vitally important for animals: poor nutrition has direct fitness consequences including increased susceptibility to parasites and pathogens, fewer resources for rearing offspring, and a reduced ability to thermoregulate or metabolise ingested toxins. We know surprisingly little about the nutritional needs of bees or how these needs are met by foraging on nectar and pollen. The research proposed here will be the first to use the nutritional models of Simpson and Raubenheimer (1993) to determine the protein-to-carbohydrate ratios (intake targets) of adult foragers and larvae of honeybees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus terrestris). We will examine in detail the conditions under which intake targets change, such as infection with pathogens, exposure to pesticides, changes in temperature, or increased demands of brood. We will also examine how nutritional imbalance affects foraging decisions, by testing whether bees are more likely to learn and remember floral traits associated with nutrients that complete their diets. We will also examine how nutritional imbalance affects the dance language of bees, predicting that bees will dance more vigorously for food sources that complete their diet. An important facet of this research will also be the biochemical analysis of protein, amino acids, carbohydrates, fatty acids, and toxins found in pollen and nectar from important crops, as well as native, invasive, and horticultural plant species in the UK landscape. These data will be incorporated into an online database that will also include a meta-analysis of the existing literature on the nutritional qualities of pollen and nectar.

Planned Impact

Impact summary (just copy and paste the section below into JES1) The output from research described will have a positive long-term impact on agricultural crop production and beekeeping while advancing our understanding of why pollinators are currently in worldwide decline. Much of the world's food production comes from plants which depend on pollinators for out-crossing and fertilization. Understanding whether or not bees can meet their nutritional needs by feeding on the nectar and pollen provided by crop plants will allow beekeepers and farmers to predict when pollinators are likely to experience nutritional shortfalls. When crops do not provide sufficient sources of nutrition, our research will equip beekeepers with the knowledge needed to provide the appropriate nutritional supplements to maintain bee health. Our research will also provide information valuable for developing an artificial honeybee diet for periods when colonies are building during brood rearing or in preparation for commercial pollination or over-wintering. Thus, the data we generate are likely to have a large and lasting impact on this industry and on crop pollination worldwide. We also expect that industries servicing the beekeeping industry that make food supplements (e.g. FeedBee) will greatly benefit from knowing the intake targets of bees and the nutritional value of floral resources. For example, pollen is often used as a supplemental food; determining the nutritional value of several types of pollen would allow companies which sell pollen supplements to use pollen types which provide the best nutritional value instead of a common mix of pollen from many plant species. For the same reasons, we also anticipate that our research will have an impact on bumblebee husbandry for pollination services. Our research also has important implications for determining the impacts of other factors on bee decline, such as diseases and pesticides. We anticipate that future studies conducted by our group and by other international groups of scientists will further test the importance of nutritional imbalance in bee susceptibility to diseases, parasites, and toxicity caused by exposure to pesticides. Furthermore, an important and long-lasting outcome of our research will be the information about the necessity for plant diversity in providing adequate floral resources for wild bee populations. We expect that compiling information about pollen and nectar quality of naturally-occurring UK plant species will aid those engaged in wild bee conservation and land-management strategies by allowing them to foster habitats with complementary floral resources for bees. Our research, therefore, could potentially impact policies aimed at issues as diverse as the control of invasive plant species and the improvement of plant diversity in land bordering urban and agricultural areas. The general public has a keen interest in bees, as demonstrated by the response to the publication of the government's support for the Insect Pollinators Initiative. Some of the main beneficiaries of our research will be the general public via educational outreach. Using existing resources at our respective institutions of Moorbank Botanic Garden at Newcastle University and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, we expect to develop several initiatives aimed inspiring interest in the way that pollinators obtain nutrition from flowering plants. This includes approaches to public engagement from involving primary school children in projects to developing visual displays such as observation hives and 'bee gardens' within the gardens which visitors can access.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description That the nutritional quality of pollen and nectar varies greatly across plant species in UK natural, urban and agricultural ecosystems and that most plant species do not provide a complete diet. Nutritionally stressed bees are more susceptible to other stressors thus plant diversity is key to maintaining a health complement of nutrition for bees. Some plant species also express invertebrate toxin in the nectar and pollen and these can have serious impacts on pollinators particularly when occurring at a large landscape scale (i.e., in a crop expressing natural resistance to insect pests) or in a tree.
Exploitation Route In developing nutritional supplements for commercial pollinators - we have a follow on proposal to develop a commercial product.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description To develop a follow on project looking at nutritional supplements for commercial bees. Proposal submitted to June 2015 round of BBSRC in collaboration with Newcastle University - successful and other proposals now funded including BBSRC (PI) Innovation for improved strawberry pollination by bumblebees with caffeine (£240 2 year) BB/P007589/1 GCRF-BBSRC-SASSA (PI): Natural Pest Regulation on Orphan Crop Legumes in Africa, (£1,000K 3 yr) BB/R020361/1 3 yrs Peter Sowerby Foundation: (PI) Wild plants for pollinator health and the role of nectar and pollen chemistry. (3 yrs £220K)
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Meeting with the All Party parliamentary Group on Bees
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Pollinator Advisory Steering Group - Defra
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Changes to land management and influencing implementation of UK gov ies to address land use change.
 
Description Darwin Inititative
Amount £290,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 21-012 
Organisation Government of the UK 
Department Department for International Development (DfID)
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2015 
End 03/2018
 
Description INNOVATION FOR IMPROVED STRAWBERRY POLLINATION BY COMMERCIAL BUMBLEBEES USING CAFFEINE
Amount £224,560 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/P007589/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 04/2019
 
Description National Science Foundation
Amount $60,000 (USD)
Organisation National Science Foundation (NSF) 
Sector Public
Country United States
Start 08/2013 
End 08/2016
 
Description United States Department of Agriculture
Amount $60,000 (USD)
Organisation U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA 
Sector Public
Country United States
Start 04/2014 
 
Description Harmful or healthy? Studying the effects of plant chemicals in nectar and pollen on bees 
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co authored proposal to Peter Sowerby Foundation
Collaborator Contribution Co authored proposal to Peter Sowerby Foundation
Impact None
Start Year 2015
 
Description Harnessing Agricultural Ecosystem Biodiversity for improved bean production in Africa 
Organisation University of Greenwich
Department Natural Resources Institute Greenwich
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Botanical, plant chemical and insect surveys
Collaborator Contribution Entomological Surveys and field experiments.
Impact Outputs currency in review
Start Year 2014
 
Description Improved soft fruit pollination by bumblebees with caffeine BB/P007589/1 IPA Grant Awarded December 2016 Starts April 1st 2017 
Organisation National Institute of Agronomy and Botany (NIAB)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution PI with University of Greenwich
Collaborator Contribution Co-I (co authors and research collaborators).
Impact None yet from the specific collaboration around improving pollination in strawberry because the project hasn;t started yet.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Improved soft fruit pollination by bumblebees with caffeine BB/P007589/1 IPA Grant Awarded December 2016 Starts April 1st 2017 
Organisation University of Greenwich
Department Department of Pharmaceutical, Chemical & Environmental Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI with University of Greenwich
Collaborator Contribution Co-I (co authors and research collaborators).
Impact None yet from the specific collaboration around improving pollination in strawberry because the project hasn;t started yet.
Start Year 2014
 
Description The macronutrient regulation of adult worker honeybees 
Organisation Newcastle University
Department Institute of Neuroscience
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-PI investigating the key nutritional components in honeybee natural diets for the development of a food supplement for commercial bees. Natural Products chemistry of pollen and nectar.
Collaborator Contribution PI of the BBSRC funded project BB/P005276/1 The macronutrient regulation of adult worker honeybees. Conducting bioassays.
Impact Egan, P.A., Stevenson, P.C., Wright, G.A., Boylan, F, Stout, J.C. (2016) Toxic nectar varies at multiple spatial scales and in response to plant invasion. Journal of Ecology. 104, 1106-1115 Tiedeken E-J., Egan, P.A., Stevenson, P.C., Wright, G.A., Brown, M.J.F., Power, E.F., Farrell., I., Matthews, S.M., Stout, J.C. (2016) Nectar chemistry modulates the impact of invasive plant species on native pollinators. Functional Ecology. 30, 885-893. Arnold, S.E.J., Stevenson, P.C. and Belmain, S.R. (2015) Responses to colour and host odour cues in three cereal pest species, in the context of ecology and control. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 105, 417-425. Oliver, C., Softley, S., Williamson, S., Stevenson P. C.; Wright, G.A. (2015) Sodium channel activators have subtle effects on the motor function, grooming and wing fanning behaviour of honeybees (Apis mellifera). PLoS One. 10, e0133733. Mkenda P.A., Stevenson, P.C., Ndakidemi, P., Farman, D.I. and Belmain, S.R. (2015) Contact and fumigant toxicity of five pesticidal plants against Callosobruchus maculatus in stored cowpea (Vigna unguiculata). International Journal of Tropical Pest Management, 35, 172-184. Mkenda, P., Mwanauta, R., Stevenson, P.C. Ndakidemi, P., Mtei, K., and Belmain, S.R. (2015) Field margin weeds provide economically viable and environmentally benign pest control compared to synthetic pesticides, PLoS One. 10, e0143530 Wright, G.A., S. Shafir, S. W. Nicolson, P. C. Stevenson. UK Priority Patent no. P030809GB. A pollen substitute for bees. Filed 16 Nov 2015. Teideken, E-J, Stout, J.C, Egan, P., Stevenson, P.C., Wright G.A. (2014) Bumblebees are not deterred by ecologically relevant concentrations of nectar toxins. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 217, 1620-1635. Arnold S.E.J. Peralta Idrovo, M.E., Lomas Arias, L.J., Belmain, S.R., Stevenson, P.C. (2014). Herbivore Defence Compounds Occur in Pollen and Reduce Bumblebee Colony Fitness. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 40 (8), 878-881. D. Marlin, S. W. Nicolson, A.A. Yusuf, P.C. Stevenson, H.M. Heyman, K. Krüger (2014). The only African wild tobacco, Nicotiana africana: alkaloid content and the effect of herbivory, PLoS One, 9 (7), e102661. Hurst, V., Stevenson P.C., Wright,G.A. (2014). Toxic compounds induce characteristic malaise behaviours in the honeybee. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: 200 (10), 881-890.  Wright, G. A., Baker, D., Palmer, M. J., Stabler, D., Mustard, J.D., Power, E., Borland, A. M., and Stevenson, P. C. (2013) Caffeine in floral nectar enhances a pollinator's memory of reward. Science, 339: 1202-1204. Vanbergen, AJ, Baude, M., Biesmeijer, J.C., Britton, N.F., Brown, M.J.F., Brown, M., Bryden, J., Budge, G.E., Bull, J.C., Carvell, C.C., Challinor, A.J., Connolly, C.N., Evans, D.J., Feil, E.J., Garratt, M.P., Greco,M.K., Heard, M.S., Jansen, V.A.A., Keeling, M.J., Kunin W.E., Marris, G.C. Memmott, J., Murray, J.T., Nicolson,S.W., Osborne, J.L., Paxton, R.J., Pirk, C.W.W., Polce, C., Potts, S.G., Priest, N.K., Raine, N.E., Rushton, S.P., Ryabov, E.V., Shafir, S. Shirley, M.D.F., Simpson, S.J., Smart, S.M., Stevenson, P.C., Stone, G.N., Termansen, M., Wright, G.A., (2013) Threats to an ecosystem service: multifactorial pressures on insect pollinators. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 11 (5): 251-259.
Start Year 2007
 
Description The role of Floral Secondary compounds in bee performance disease transmission in a natural ecosystem 
Organisation University of Massachusetts
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Proposal submitted to National Science Foundation for 500K USD. Co written by me.
Collaborator Contribution Proposal submitted to National Science Foundation for 500K USD. Co written by me.
Impact Palmer-Young, E.; Farrell, I.W.; Adler, L.S; Milano, N., Egan, P; Irwin, R; Stevenson, P.C., 2019. Secondary metabolites of nectar and pollen: a data resource for ecological and evolutionary studies" Ecology (in press)Palmer-Young, E., Egan, P., Farrell, I., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Stevenson, P.C. 2019 Chemistry of floral rewards: intra- and interspecific variability of nectar and pollen secondary metabolites across taxa, Ecological Monographs, 89, e01335 Rothchild, K.W., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Sadd, B.M., Stevenson, P.C., Palmer-Young, E.C. (2018) Effects of short-term exposure to naturally occurring thymol concentrations on transmission of a bumble bee parasite. Ecological Entomology, 43, 567-577. Egan, P., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Farrel, I.W., Palmer-young, E., Stevenson P.C. 2018. Crop Domestication Alters Floral Reward Chemistry with Potential Consequences for Pollinator Health Frontiers in Plant Science. 9, 1357. Adler, L.S., Ellner, S.P., McArt, S.H., Stevenson, P.C., Irwin, R.E. 2018 Diseases where you dine: Plant species and floral traits associated with pathogen transmission in bumble bees. Ecology, 99, 2535-2545
Start Year 2013
 
Description 10 minute interview on Inside Science Radio 4 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Talk sparked twitter debate.

Much personal feedback - many [people surprised at the kind of work going on at Kew.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0499llm
 
Description Appearance on BBC2 Kew on a plate series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Started a twitter storm about pollinator decline and the potential of science to help ameliorate pollinator declines.

Large awareness raising about pollinator declines.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05n91p4
 
Description Appearance on National Public Radio USA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Huge amount of public media interest in the honeybee memory enhancing effects of caffeine from citrus and coffee flower nectar.
Impossible to capture all but Google caffeine + bee memory

Huge amount of public media interest in the honeybee and awareness raising about pollinators and the decline of bees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/03/07/173465469/if-caffeine-can-boost-the-memory-of-bees-ca...
 
Description Bees Needs Week outreach event in Carnaby Street with Defra 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Outreach activity for Defras bees needs week showcasing UKRI funded work on nectar and pollen chemistry and pollaintor health.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description European Research Night at Natural History Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Controbution to NHM european research night talking about UKRI funded work on nectar chemistry and pollaintor health.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Four page feature on toxic nectar in New Scientist 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Much personal feedback and attention drawn to the plight of bees and the complexity of their survival.

Much personal feedback
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630180-500-bitter-sweet-nectar-why-some-flowers-poison-bees
 
Description Interview with NBC News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact INterview with NBC News for broadcast on US TV
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Kew Science festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Open day with display of pollinator oriented research and activities from Kew Gardens to draw attention to the challenges facing pollinators and the research being undertaken by Kew to address pollinator declines. Also drawing attention to pollaintor diversity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.kew.org/about-our-organisation/press-media/press-releases/press-release-kew-science-fest...
 
Description New Statesman Article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article on our UKRI supported work published in the New Statesman
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/nature/2017/08/nectar-robbers-how-flowers-discriminate-against-...
 
Description Pollinator Outreach Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Open day with display of pollinator oriented research and activities in collaboration with Reading University to draw attention to the challenges facing pollinators and the research being undertaken by Kew and Reading to address pollinator declines.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HM4dQuaMSs
 
Description Pollinator Outreach Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Open day with display of pollinator oriented research and activities in collaboration with Reading University to draw attention to the challenges facing pollinators and the research being undertaken by Kew and Reading to address pollinator declines.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Royal Society Panel debate about Science Matters 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Formal debat with Professor Brian Cox host and the Royal Society infront of >1000 paying guests in Manchetser to debate the issues around food production and the impoortance of ecosystems services.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2016/12/science-matters-feeding-the-future/
 
Description Talk To Autralian National Radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact INterview wqith Professor Tim Entwistle for national public radio in Australia about Kew work on polliantors and the Hive.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017