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Stress decreases pollen foraging performance in honeybees

According to a study conducted by researchers from the INRA Research Unit on Bees and Environment and Macquarie University, stressed honeybees have lower pollen foraging performance. The resulting deficit in pollen could have consequences on the colony's nutritional balance and development. This study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Honeybee's foraging activity. © INRA, Yves Le Conte
By Cédric ALAUX - Célia BORDIER - Arnaud RIDEL
Updated on 02/23/2018
Published on 02/23/2018

Honeybee foraging activity allows nutrients (water, nectar, pollen) essential for colony development and survival to be collected. Bees must be able to adapt their foraging activity to the availability of resources and the colony's needs. However, the honeybee is exposed to a growing number of environmental pressures (parasites, pesticides, malnutrition, etc.), some of which cause sub-lethal effects.

Researchers at the INRA Bees and Environment Unit in Avignon and Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, have shown that even minimal stress decreases honeybee foraging performance. Using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips stuck to the bees as soon as they hatch (cell exit) and RFID detectors coupled to a camera at the hive entrance, researchers recorded the foraging activity of bees, characterised by the number and duration of exits from the hive and the type of resources collected (with or without pollen).

The study's results show that bees exposed to stress early in life subsequently decrease their involvement in pollen collection. In addition, their pollen foraging flights are significantly longer than those of control bees which had not been exposed to stress. As pollen foraging is energetically more demanding than nectar and water foraging, this resource tends to be neglected by the stressed bees. Ultimately, this nutritional imbalance can have consequences on the colony’s development as pollen is its main source of protein and is essential for rearing larvae.

This study was funded by the ANR (French National Research Agency) and a grant from The Company of Biologists.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Cédric ALAUX Bees and Environment Research Unit
  • Célia BORDIER Bees and Environment Research Unit