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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Tucson, Arizona » Carl Hayden Bee Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #388010

Research Project: Quantifying and Reducing Colony Losses from Nutritional, Pathogen/Parasite, and Pesticide Stress by Improving Colony Management Practices

Location: Carl Hayden Bee Research Center

Title: Unbalanced fatty acid diets impair discrimination ability of honey bee workers to damaged and healthy brood odors

item Bennett, Meghan
item Welchert, Ashley
item Carroll, Mark
item SHAFIR, S. - Hebrew University Of Jerusalem
item SMITH, B. - Arizona State University
item Corby-Harris, Vanessa

Submitted to: Journal of Insect Physiology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/4/2022
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Honey bee colonies rely on adequate nutrition to perform essential colony functions. Young worker bees eat pollen, while older workers consume mostly nectar. Pollen is nutrient dense, containing lipids and proteins vital for young worker so they can develop glands that produce food for developing babies. One problem is honey bee colonies go through significant nutritional dearths seasonally, and when being used for pollination services in mono-culture settings. Without diverse pollen available, bees can be consuming nutritionally unbalanced diets. Previous studies have showed diets unbalanced in fatty acids impaired cognition of bees. We asked the question, do these unbalanced diets affect young worker bee ability to tell the difference between damaged and healthy babies? Young worker bees use their sense of smell to locate diseased or dead nest mates. Thus, we tested the hypothesis that young worker bees fed unbalanced diets would impair their ability to sniff out the dead. We trained bees to learn healthy or damaged baby odors and tested their ability to tell the difference between the two when fed balanced or unbalanced diets. Balanced fatty acid diets enabled bees to tell the difference, but unbalanced diets impaired their ability to tell the difference between damaged and healthy odors. These data are encouraging that fatty acids are an important angle to study how nutrition affects cognition and behavior. It is possible that if a colony can not sniff out the dead, then they could be more prone to spreading of disease in the hive.

Technical Abstract: Nutrition is the backbone of any social insect colony, playing a significant role regulating both individual performance and colony growth. In honey bee colonies, task-related behaviors such as nursing or foraging can be mediated by nutrition. Young workers (nurse bees) consume almost all of the pollen coming into the hive, while foragers consume mostly nectar. Pollen provides vital proteins and lipids, and after adult emergence, is only consumed by nurse bees for a week into adulthood. The role that lipids play in physiology and behavior of adult bees is gaining attention. Past research suggests that lipids, specifically fatty acids, impact olfactory learning in honey bees. Olfaction is crucial to performing brood care and cell cleaning behaviors by nurse bees. Thus, we targeted the early adult, pollen feeding stage to examine how fatty acids affect cognition. We fed young workers (days 0-9) diets balanced or unbalanced in their ratio of essential fatty acids ('-6:3) sourced from pollen and cooking oils. We then measured their ability to learn healthy and damaged brood odors, as well as their ability to discriminate between the two. Workers fed balanced diets could learn and discriminate between brood odors better than workers fed unbalanced diets. Consumption of both diet types decreased with age, but the cognitive effects of diets remained. These results reveal crucial insight about how diet affects young worker olfactory learning, which could have down-stream effects on task-related behaviors in the colony.