Honey bees are naturally adapted to have their nutrition needs met by blooming flowers. For this reason, the relationship between bees and plants is often complex, which can present challenges to understand the relationship between nutrition resources and stress, to develop supplemental nutrition resources for managed honey bees, to optimize supplemental forage on the landscape, and to facilitate agricultural pollination.
Current Nutrition and Forage Research
Please click on titles for more information about research projects
Phytochemicals as Management Tool for Sustainable Honeybee Colony Health and Productivity Principal Investigator: Arathi Seshadri, Colorado State University, 2016
We are exploring the benefits of floral chemicals on honey bee health. The findings will allow beekeepers to supplement bee diet with chemicals in floral nectar that would otherwise be absent in sugar syrup or become unavailable when bees forage on a single crop
Developing a Rapid Assessment Technique to Understand the Effect of Forage Quality on Nutritional Status and Honey Bee Health Principal Investigator: Dr. Matthew Smart, US Geological Survey Northern Prarie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND, 2016
The status of the bee nutritional system may be viewed as the point from which the health trajectory of colonies initiates, ultimately leading to the successes or failures of colonies. Relatively recently, nutritional status has been shown to moderate the impacts of common honey bee parasites and diseases in the lab. Further, the environmental stress of pesticide exposure has been shown to be both chronic in agricultural landscapes, and to impact colony and bee nutritional state. Ultimately, these stressors are known to interact to weaken honey bees and colonies. Add to the known interactions between these factors (nutrition, parasites, and pesticides) the fact that suitable beekeeper habitat and pollen quality have declined over time, and there is much to be concerned about regarding the future availability of abundant and quality forage to sustain and meet the nutritional demands for healthy colonies. Since 2015 my colleague, Dr. Clint Otto, and I have been engaged in a large-scale field study across three critical commercial beekeeping states (ND, SD, MN) to examine the impacts of land use on colony health, productivity and survival. This region, the Northern Great Plains (NGP), of the US hosts a large proportion of commercial honey bee colonies each spring through fall for honey production and colony population growth. Most of these colonies go on to pollinate almonds in early spring. As such, the presence of abundant, diverse, clean, and nutritionally complete forage across the region is absolutely key for setting the nutritional stage for successful overwintering and robust, healthy colonies to meet early spring pollination service demands. In collaborations with some of the largest commercial beekeepers in the US, and likely the world, we have a unique opportunity to thoroughly examine the nutritional status of honey bees given varying land use conditions in this important part of the country. We propose to lay the groundwork for establishing and utilizing a robust diagnostic tool that will aid beekeepers in determining the nutritional status of their colonies. The technique, which involves quantifying the protein, lipids, and stored carbohydrates (glycogen) in samples of adult honey bees, has been previously utilized to examine the impacts of pesticides found in contaminated pollinator forage near agricultural fields. Here, we propose to leverage another research study to collect and analyze the nutritional status of adult honey bees within the context of land use quality. Specific Objectives: Determine the ‘complete’ (lipids, proteins, glycogen = stored carbohydrates) nutritional profiles of adult honey bees from a large sample set of apiaries. Analyze the data in the context of land use surrounding the sampled bees to determine the differential impact of land use quality on honey bee nutrition. And determine final outcomes of sampled colonies in relation to fall nutritional state (honey production, survival, population size for almond pollination).
Molecular Identification of Bee-Collected Pollen Principal Investigator: Rodney Richardson, Ohio State University, Columbus, 2016
Rodney Richardson, Ohio State University, Columbus, is the PAm-Costco Scholar Runner-up. For his Scholar Fellowship, Rodney is presently working on two research projects: "Molecular Identification of Bee-Collected Pollen, and "Investigation of Immune Functions in Honey Bee Hemocytes" (See also: PAm directed pesticide research).
Many studies of bee health, forage and nutrition aim to know what plants bees are foraging on. Using novel DNA sequencing technology to "fingerprint" pollen can improve our capacity and efficiency to study honey bee pollen and nectar foraging behavior.
Evaluating the Potential Benefits of Native Prarie Flowers for Honey Bees Principal Investigator: Morgan Carr-Markell, University of Minnesota, 2016
The PAm-Costco Ph.D. Scholar 2016-2018 is Morgan Carr-Markell, a continuing grad student under Dr. Marla Spivak’s lab at the University of Minnesota. She is receiving a $50,000/year scholarship for three years.
Morgan plans to determine how honey bees use native flowers in restored prairies in Minnesota, using two approaches: 1) determining the floral diet breadth of honey bee colonies through collection and identification of pollen gathered by colonies located near large tracts of restored native prairies; and 2) “eavesdropping” on the distance and direction information encoded in the dance-language communications among honey bee foragers to determine whether they perceive the native forbs as high enough in quality to recruit foraging nestmates.
What is the Value of a Livestock Forage Legume (Sainfoin; Onobrychis Viciaefolia) As Honey Bee Forage? Principal Investigator: Ralph Cartar, Universtiy of Calgary, 2016
This project has two objectives: to quantify the value of sainfoin for honey bees (nectar production, flower density, flower phenology, and pollen production and nutritional value), and to quantify the interactions of competing pollinators visiting sainfoin, to explain their observed densities.
Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciaefolia) is a perennial forage legume recognized for its nutritional value to livestock, and agronomic interest in this plant is increasing. The word ‘sainfoin’ comes from the French words for “healthy” and “hay”, as sainfoin contains moderate concentrations of condensed tannins, which help cattle process plant protein efficiently. Sainfoin is therefore of particular appeal as a livestock forage plant, as it is less likely to induce bloat than other forage crops. Importantly for dryland agriculture, sainfoin is relatively heat and drought-resistance. With climate change, this dryland-productive plant is seen as an increasingly valuable forage plant in the warming, drying prairies of Western Canada. However, sainfoin is not only of value as forage for mammalian livestock, it is also highly attractive to bees. Honey bee colonies with access to this plant produce can produce copious amounts of high quality honey. There was a large volume of Canadian research on sainfoin in the 1960-1970’s, however sainfoin was found to perform poorly in mixed stands (with alfalfa or other standard forage plants), reducing stand longevity, and increasing the cost and labour required to maintain forage managers. Thus sainfoin has been hitherto been considered too costly to be worthwhile as an addition to forage stands for livestock. Recently however, interest in sainfoin has been rejuvenated with the development of a new variety AC Mountainview by one of us (Acharya). This variety has proven to have excellent longevity and productivity, as well as the nutritional and agronomic qualities that make it a good livestock forage plant. Alberta alone contains more than 11.6 million ha of forage land, with 6.5 million ha of native range (natural land for pasture), 2.5 million ha of tame/seeded pasture, and over 98,900 ha of forage seed. Thus forage land in Western Canada represents a large potential forage source for honey bees, if livestock producers are encouraged to include crops with value to honey bees, such as sainfoin, in their seed mixes. Our goal is to evaluate the potential of this new variety of sainfoin as a bee forage crop, both alone and in mixed stands, with the ultimate goal of increasing the amount of forage available to bees in Western Canada. While sainfoin is noted for producing copious quantities of honey-suitable nectar, and early flowering, there are no quantitative descriptions of its nectar production in the dry climates of the Canadian prairies. Without this information, we are constrained in our ability to estimate the value of sainfoin to honey bees and other managed pollinators. In particular, we plan to measure the plant’s rate of flower and nectar production across time, and to relate these measurements to concurrent climate (particularly temperature, humidity, and wind), soil moisture, plant density, and phenology.
Bee Integrated Demonstration Project. Pragmatic Beekeeping, Forage and Farming Practices Principal Investigator: Honey Bee Health Coalition, 2017
Honey bees support approximately one-third of the food we eat – and more than $15 billion annual in American agriculture. Yet winter honey bee colony losses average one-third each year in the U.S., creating a significant challenge for pollination and honey production. A broad consensus has emerged in the scientific research and beekeeping communities that there are multiple interacting stressors that impact honey bee health. Primary risk factors associated with the current high rates of colony loss are: honey bee pests and diseases including the Varroa mite, poor nutrition due to losses in quality forage, and pesticide exposure. Multi-factor problems require multi-factor solutions. The Honey Bee Health Coalition’s Bee Integrated Demonstration Project is a one-of-a-kind effort that will leverage and integrate existing, effective programs and best practices into a common project and agricultural landscape to improve bee health. Bee Integrated will bring together beekeepers, farmers, and diverse private and public sector partners in the upper Midwest to demonstrate how a portfolio of best practices can be used together to address bee health risk factors including pests, poor forage, and pesticide exposure. Bee Integrated provides a bridge between research and implementation by demonstrating and validating best management practices and widely promoting solutions for sustainable beekeeping. Bee offers an innovative, collaborative, pragmatic and important approach.
The overarching goal of the Bee Integrated Demonstration Project is to demonstrate how honey bee health can be improved by using a portfolio of tools together in the same agricultural landscape to address the primary risk factors affecting bee health. This project will:
Demonstrate and evaluate the capacity of Honey Bee Health Coalition projects, tools and recommendations to enhance beekeeping in the agricultural environment by improving health outcomes for honey bees.
Specifically, demonstrate how existing best practices for forage and nutrition, crop pest control, varroa management, and farmer/beekeeper cooperation can be effectively combined and implemented into an integrated program.
Completed Nutrition and Forage Research
Please click on titles for more information about research projects
Testing HFCS Bee Feed for Contaminants and Determining Adverse Effects on Honey Bee Health and Longevity Principal Investigator: Dr. Diana Sammatro, USDA, 2007
Dr. Sammataro and colleagues from the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, AZ took part in the first ever PAm-sponsored research grant. The team researched contamination and adverse affects on honey bee health and longevity in the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) bee feed. The research provided beekeepers with guidelines for the use of HFCS as a supplemental feed for honey bees.
Supplemental carbohydrates are commonly fed to managed honey bee colonies in times of inadequate food storage. Longevity, productivity and physiology were compared between individual worker honey bees and between honey bee colonies fed HFCS or sucrose syrup. Worker honey bees tended to live longer when maintained on sucrose syrup in laboratory analysis. Productivity comparisons between colonies maintained in a closed foraging arena were inconclusive in terms of brood production; however, trends towards increased wax production and food storage were observed in colonies supplied with sucrose syrup. Free-foraging colonies supplemented with sucrose trended towards significantly greater brood production when compared to those supplemented with HFCS. Though sucrose syrup appears to sustain a slight increase in productivity over HFCS in apiculture, the mechanism and economic impact for this effect remain unresolved. The researchers also surveyed hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) contamination of HFCS supplied by manufacturers and HFCS stored by beekeepers. HMF is a problematic contaminant for beekeepers, and though the mechanism of its toxicity is unknown, it has been shown to cause dysentery in honey bees. This is particularly an issue in beekeeping because HMF is known to form in both honey and HFCS. HFCS supplied directly from manufacturers did not have substantial HMF contamination, and on average was found to be well below the international standard for allowable amounts of HMF contamination in honey. On the other hand, HMF contamination of HFCS stored by beekeepers was found to be, on average, above the acceptable level according to international standards. It seems highly likely that variable successes and failures that beekeepers are experiencing when using HFCS as a supplemental feed are attributable to this variable rate of contamination. Most likely during the steps of procurement and storage of HFCS there are opportunities for high heat exposure which is rendering the syrup unsuitable as a feed for bees. Beekeepers should reflect on their manner of procurement and storage of HFCS.
The Effect of Colony Size and Composition on Almond Pollen Collection Principal Investigator: Dr. Frank Eischen, USDA-ARS, Weslaco, TX, 2007
Dr. Frank Eischen and colleagues from the Honey Bee Research Unit, USDA-ARS, Weslaco, TX, monitored US and Australian honey bee pollen collection of various colony sizes on a large almond orchard near Shafter, CA. After 20 days of continuous pollen collection, 11 colonies were evaluated for strength, broodnest size and stored pollen.
Click here to view Dr. Eischen’s 2006 WAS PowerPoint Presentation. Click here to view Dr. Eischen’s 2007 CSBA PowerPoint Presentation.
The list of treatments in ascending order of pollen collected was: US 4-frame; US 6-frame; AUS colony established Dec 06 from 4-lb pkg; US 4-frame + 4 lb AUS pkg; US 8-frame; US 4-frame + US 4-frame (2 united 4-frames); US 10-frame; and US 14-frame.
Dr. Eischen’s conclusions are as follows: -Colonies should have been fed protein supplement prior to bloom. -Colonies increased pollen collection as their size increased to about 12 frames. -The addition of an Australian package improved pollen collection by 4-fame colonies. -The addition of the AUS package greatly improved brood rearing. -When two US 4-frame colonies were united they collected more pollen than two separate 4-frame colonies. -Large colonies begin foraging earlier than small colonies. -Colonies facing east begin foraging earlier than those face west. -The addition of brood decreased pollen collection. -Australian colonies collected more pollen than their size would indicate, but the researchers suspect this was due to their behavior in handling pollen traps differently.
The Effects of Varying Landscapes on Honey Bee Colony Health, Nutritional Physiology, and Immune Function Principal Investigator: Dr. Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota, 2011
Dr. Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota, is currently conducting research to correlate land use with honey bee colony health and survival in North Dakota. Project Apis m. provided funds towards the characterization of the health of commercial honey bees in response to agricultural land use patterns. Primary findings of the project related to PAm funding: – Nurse bees from colonies positioned in the best quality landscape (composed of less than 25% corn, soybeans, and wheat within a 2-mile radius) exhibited significantly higher levels of abdominal vitellogenin stores than nurse bees in colonies from the least bee-friendly landscape (~75% of the land in corn, soybeans, and wheat within 2-mile radius). – The same nurse bees with higher vitellogenin showed significantly lower levels of immune gene transcripts in at least one of the years, 2010-12. These preliminary results indicate that the broad scale management of agricultural lands has a significant impact on the nutritional status and immune responses of honey bees, and ultimately, on overwinter survival and the number of colonies available for almond pollination. The physiological differences found due to land use are most likely due to differences in forage availability (abundance and/or quality) between landscapes. Current work is under way to explain plant species significantly contributing to different outcomes of colonies positioned in the landscapes involved in the study.
RECENT IMPACT OF THIS WORK: PAm funding went toward graduate student salary and molecular lab materials/analysis that was part of a much larger study that identified land use conditions and colony/individual bee metrics associated with productivity and survival. We relayed data and findings to beekeepers at numerous beekeeper conferences and to gov't agency personnel at gov't science and policy meetings. This research has also set the stage for larger-scale land use and honey bee health research that is ongoing at USGS.
Implementation of a Remote Monitoring Network of Hive Scales to Predict Hive Health and Productivity Principal Investigator: Jonathan Engelsma, Grand Valley State University, 2014
Jonathan and his graduate students at Grand Valley State University have been working with the Bee Informed Partnership to automate the monitoring of live honeybee colonies via electronic sensor platforms. In particular, we are interested in automatically capturing the weight of colonies. Currently, there are two commercial scale offerings (BeeWatch and SolutionBee) that can be purchased and configured to forward weight, temperature, and humidity to BIP. You can read more about the project in this really excellent article published by Rapid Growth Media.