Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Bumble bees regulate their intake of essential protein and lipid pollen macronutrients

Lookup NU author(s): Anthony Vaudo, Daniel Stabler, Professor Geraldine Wright



Bee population declines are linked to the reduction of nutritional resources due to land-use intensification, yet we know little about the specific nutritional needs of many bee species. Pollen provides bees with their primary source of protein and lipids, but nutritional quality varies widely among host-plant species. Therefore, bees might have adapted to assess resource quality and adjust their foraging behavior to balance nutrition from multiple food sources. We tested the ability of two bumble bee species, Bombus terrestris and Bombus impatiens, to regulate protein and lipid intake. We restricted B. terrestris adults to single synthetic diets varying in protein: lipid ratios (P: L). The bees over-ate protein on low-fat diets and over-ate lipid on high-fat diets to reach their targets of lipid and protein, respectively. The bees survived best on a 10: 1 P: L diet; the risk of dying increased as a function of dietary lipid when bees ate diets with lipid contents greater than 5: 1 P: L. Hypothesizing that the P: L intake target of adult worker bumble bees was between 25: 1 and 5: 1, we presented workers from both species with unbalanced but complementary paired diets to determine whether they self-select their diet to reach a specific intake target. Bees consumed similar amounts of proteins and lipids in each treatment and averaged a 14: 1 P: L for B. terrestris and 12: 1 P: L for B. impatiens. These results demonstrate that adult worker bumble bees likely select foods that provide them with a specific ratio of P: L. These P: L intake targets could affect pollen foraging in the field and help explain patterns of host-plant species choice by bumble bees.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Vaudo AD, Stabler D, Patch HM, Tooker JF, Grozinger CM, Wright GA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Experimental Biology

Year: 2016

Volume: 219

Issue: 24

Pages: 3962-3970

Online publication date: 14/10/2016

Acceptance date: 06/10/2016

Date deposited: 05/06/2017

ISSN (print): 0022-0949

ISSN (electronic): 1477-9145

Publisher: Company of Biologists


DOI: 10.1242/jeb.140772


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric


Funder referenceFunder name
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) Bee Health Improvement Project Grant
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
2014-02219U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-AFRI-NIFA) Predoctoral Fellowships Grant
BB/I025220/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)